Chapter 20: Coup d'Heart
It took a long time and a great deal of care but eventually, through the team's combined efforts Kara, Prue and Lorne were all back on solid ground. Prue sat with Kara, their backs against a tree, while Lorne and Coughlin packed all the gear away. Evan wasn't overly worried about her from a medical stand point - she looked tired but his fears that she'd go into shock had retreated with her coherence and continued improvement since waking. No, it wasn't her physical condition that worried him, although for sure he'd be insisting Doctor Beckett cover all the bases. It was Prue's emotional state that had Lorne casting her quick, concerned glances. She was too quiet, too still, the expression on her face a combination of confusion and an almost anger that rose every time her eyes were drawn to that fallen column. He understood the combination - losing a team mate never made sense, no matter the circumstances, and thinking you could have done something to change it was hard to see around. She'd need help to deal with it ... help he'd give her whether she wanted it or not ... when the time was right.
"I'm going to carry you back to the ruins now," Lorne said, kneeling in front of her. "I can land the Jumper there – get you back to Atlantis faster."
Prue glanced at the column again, still resting over the entrance to the chamber below, her lips trembling.
"We'll send a team for him," Evan promised, smoothing a hand over her hair. "Come on," he said gently, getting to his feet and bending down to lift her carefully into his arms. She grabbed his shoulder, wrapping her other arm around his neck. "Okay?" he looked down at her.
Prue pressed her face to his neck, nodding wordlessly. Motioning for Coughlin to help Kara, Lorne set off through the trees, taking the most direct route back to the main ruins. There were trees there as well but not as many and he was confident he could get the Jumper down and back up again.
Somewhere around halfway through the hour long trek Prue slumped, her arm falling away to hang loosely down his back. Lorne stopped until he heard her steady breathing and realised she'd simply fallen asleep. Gathering her closer he pressed his face to her hair, breathing her in as he started walking again.
They made good time until abruptly they were there and he was facing his reluctance to leave Prue while he climbed back up to the Jumper.
"I will stay with her," Kara touched his arm, her expression full of compassion.
Nodding, Evan carefully set Prue on the ground, Kara helping him to prop her up and then sitting beside her to further support her weight. Lorne squatted in front of them for a moment, his eyes on the woman who was turning his life upside down.
"Does it still make sense to deny how you each feel?" Kara's words drew his eyes to her.
"You're too young to be this wise," Lorne touched her shoulder fondly. "But no, none of this is making much sense right now."
"I'm sorry about Corporal Casey," Kara's eyes shimmered with tears. "He was very brave."
"Yes he was," Lorne sighed sadly. Touching her shoulder again, in mutual comfort this time, he straightened, radioing Reed to make sure they were ready. Dan would have attempted the difficult landing himself but Evan didn't want to put that kind of pressure on the young officer, preferring to do it himself. Cheung sent down the rope, the ascending tool already threaded through, and Evan quickly made the climb up, pulling himself over the hatch edge and back into the Jumper. Acknowledging Jimmy he strode through to the forward section, dropping into the pilot's chair.
"How's Doctor Darnell?" Dan asked as he relinquished control of the vessel back to Lorne.
"She took a nasty blow to the head but she'll be fine once we get her back to Atlantis," Lorne replied. He glanced over at Reed before turning his attention to the controls. "Corporal Casey didn't make it."
"Fu-ck," Reed muttered grimly. Realising what he's said he straightened abruptly. "Sorry Sir."
"No need Dan," Evan shook his head. "From what I could tell he saved Doctor Darnell's life ...," he trailed off. It was something to say but really, was that any consolation to his family? Would Evan's own Mom feel better if he died in the line of duty but saved others in the process? Eventually maybe, but for that first rush of grief he was pretty sure it'd mean less than nothing.
"We ah ... we trained together sometimes," Reed admitted.
Lorne nodded. "Colonel Sheppard will send a team back to bring him home," he promised after a few moments of silence.
"Is everything okay up there Sir?" Coughlin's voice over the radio brought them back to their present task.
"Yes Sergeant," Lorne replied. "I'm about to start my descent."
"Understood," Nate returned. "It's all clear down here."
Watching the HUD Evan slowly lowered the Jumper through the gap in the trees, scrapping the rear in a couple of places where it was tight, before landing it lightly. Jumping up he opened the rear hatch and hurried back to where Prue slept. He carried her inside himself, strapping her into the back and wrapping a blanket over her tenderly.
Back in the air Evan radioed Captain Cheeseman at the gate and broke the news on Corporal Casey's death as gently as he could. Ryan was silent for a few moments - Evan waited, giving him the chance to regain his composure.
"Doctor Darnell and Kara are both okay though?" Cheeseman finally spoke.
"Thanks to Casey, yes they are," Lorne replied. "Is Teneo still there with you?"
"He is Sir," Cheeseman confirmed.
"Let him know we have Kara with us," Lorne advised. "She's uninjured but we'll take her back to Atlantis just to make sure, and return her first thing tomorrow. You and Barker escort Teneo back to the settlement Captain, and then return to Atlantis."
"Yes Sir," Ryan acknowledged, grateful to have a task that would give him additional time to talk with his remaining team mate, time for both of them to begin dealing with the tragedy.
Lorne dialled the gate as soon as they were in range and radioed their status, requesting a medical team meet them in the Jumper bay as soon as they landed.
Colonel Sheppard was there waiting too ... Evan introduced Kara quickly before she and Prue were whisked away to the infirmary with Carson. Lorne wanted to go with them but his first responsibility was to debrief Doctor Weir and John on what had happened. The Colonel motioned for Evan to walk with him to Elizabeth's office where Evan quickly summarised the sequence of events. Sheppard responded as Evan had expected by immediately sending a team to retrieve Corporal Casey's body.
"Was there anything down there Major?" Weir asked at the end of their meeting.
"In the chamber Doctor Darnell found?" Lorne clarified. "I couldn't tell you Ma'am," he admitted. "I picked up a pretty big energy reading – that's what led us to find our missing people. From what I could tell though, there was no obvious source. We need a research team there as soon as possible to investigate further."
"Very well," Weir nodded. "And how is Doctor Darnell?"
"I was about to go and find out Ma'am," Lorne admitted, keeping his expression bland because Colonel Sheppard at the least knew his relationship with the scientist had been a little rocky at times.
"Don't let us keep you then Major," John said, waving a hand dismissing his 2IC.
"Thank you Sir," Lorne stood, nodded to both and then spun on a heel, hurrying to the infirmary.
Coughlin, Reed and Cheung were all there, keeping a watching brief until Prue was installed in a regular infirmary bed.
"Any news?" Lorne asked, throwing himself into the chair next to Nate.
"They're doing scans," Nate reported, "precautionary," he added when Evan frowned in concern. "Doctor Keller said she should be ready for visitors soon."
Nodding, Evan shifted to look at his team, the pride rising as he thought about what they'd achieved that afternoon. "Tough day," he said simply, "one you all handled well. We were too late to save Casey, but we did save the people he sacrificed himself for. Don't forget that, okay."
"We wouldn't have found them without you Sir," Coughlin pointed out. "How'd you know which direction to look in?"
"Gut feeling," Lorne offered up the explanation, knowing Nate wouldn't be satisfied. "The Jumper scan detected those underground rooms and when I picked up the energy signature with the life signs detector it was obvious we were getting close."
"I picked up the same readings in the Jumper Sir," Reed revealed. "Couldn't have pinpointed it as accurately as you did though – surrounding us like that it swamped my readings."
"I hate to say this Dan because I know it pisses you off but ...," Lorne shrugged, "natural gene. Mine seems to give me a knack for narrowing down the basic scan results."
"That is so unfair Sir," Reed predictably reacted as Lorne expected.
"You still get to fly a Jumper Airman," he reminded his young team mate. "Be happy with that."
"Yes Sir," Dan smiled just a little. His CO had a good point.
Finally the activities of the day were over, night time descending on the city. Off duty, his team long retired to quarters, Evan found himself back at the infirmary. Prue had been given the all clear on more serious damage, lucky to get away with a severe concussion and an array of painful bruises across her shoulder and down one side. Corporal Casey had been returned to the city too, his trip back to Earth with a personal note from Doctor Weir already planned for the next day. It was a harsh reminder of what they all risked every time they stepped through the gate. That Casey had been killed in an accident instead of in battle got that point across even more – it wasn't just Wraith or Genii or other enemies they had to fear. The Ancient's themselves had left a legacy and sometimes it wasn't a kind one.
But life went on, the important and the unimportant taking up space and energy, giving people something to distract them. Like movie nights. Evan and Prue had missed theirs, Jennifer taking his apologies back to the others with a promise that they'd reschedule before Laura returned to Earth.
As he sat beside Prue's bed watching her sleep, Evan realised abruptly that Coughlin had been right. He couldn't lie to himself about his own feelings – and it had nothing to do with whatever action he might feel compelled to make in the future. He wouldn't hurt Prue for the world ... but he'd come too close to losing her not to acknowledge that if given the chance he'd take whatever she offered.
Eventually one of the nurses shooed him away and he walked tiredly back to his quarters. His eyes went straight to the floor, almost expecting to see something there. On the scale of bad days, days that had injured something inside him, this one was right up there. But unlike those other bad days this time there was no small bunch of unassuming purple flowers waiting to comfort him. Since he'd never been able to find the culprit he should have been relieved that whoever was behind the gesture had given up on him but instead, deep down, he was actually a little disappointed.
Lorne waited a few days before confronting Prue. She buried herself in her lab as soon as Carson released her from the infirmary, leaving Lorne impersonal messages instead of telling him that she was cancelling their gene practice. When he finally decided she'd had enough time and went to see her early one morning he realised she'd done more than bury herself - she'd actually locked herself in her lab.
Evan swiped the controls so that the chime would announce his presence to her but she didn't respond.
"Fine," he muttered, pressing his hand more firmly to the panel. "Open this door," he commanded the city at large, not even bothering to try to tap into any one system. There was a king of leaping buzz of static in his head and then the doors swished silently open and he strode inside.
"When a door is locked it usually means the people inside don't want visitors Major," Prue's tone was quietly angry but he knew most of that wasn't for him.
"Yes, but usually when someone locks themselves in they have a better reason than just hiding from everyone," Lorne replied, walking forward until he was standing in front of her. When she kept her eyes locked firmly on her screen he sighed and then reached out, gently cupping her chin.
She flinched at the contact and jerked away but finally she was looking at him. They assessed each other silently for a few moments. Evan read anger and confusion from her, hoping she'd see understanding and quiet determination in him.
"You need to talk about this," he told her firmly.
"What is there to say? A young man died because of me!" Prue turned away, wrapping her arms around her middle.
"Maybe that's true," Evan's unexpected words had her spinning back to him, her eyes wide. "But if Casey died for you Prue, what you've been doing the past few days is hardly a fitting thank you."
"I don't understand anything anymore," Prue whispered, her eyes filling. "It wasn't supposed to be like this ... nothing is working how I thought it would when I agreed to come here."
"You want to quit, go back to Earth?"
"I couldn't go back even if I wanted to," Prue dismissed that option with a hint of bitterness in her tone and Lorne suspected they were no longer talking about the same thing. "I just need to work harder, that's all. Once I've completed my goals everything will be right again."
"People die Prue," Evan moved forward, cupping her elbows and drawing her closer. "And no matter how old they were or what kind of life they led it's never all right for the people left behind. Its what you do to show that their life had value that matters. That and living your own life to those same values ... doing the right thing, standing for those who can't stand for themselves, leaving the world better than it was when you came into it ... at the end of the day isn't that what it's about?"
Prue nodded wordlessly, those brimming tears finally building too much to be contained. Dropping her head to his chest she let the tears come, trusting Evan to hold her up. It wasn't the fix-all - more the beginning of resolving and accepting what couldn't be changed - but that conversation did return their relationship to the semblance of normality they'd created. He was Major Lorne, she was Doctor Darnell and they met regularly to practice use of the ATA gene. It was what Prue needed ... and if Evan thought about how little it was compared to what his heart wanted, he made sure to keep it to himself.
"Madagascar?" Cadman looked at Lorne incredulously almost two weeks later. "You picked a children's movie?"
"You got a problem with that Lieutenant?" Evan challenged. He'd arrived ahead of the others and queued up the movie, knowing it wouldn't be what anyone expected him to choose. Prue wasn't there yet - she hadn't mentioned one way or the other whether she was participating but he was hoping she would, keeping an eye on the doors as he set things up while trying not to look like he was too interested in her impending arrival.
"Ah, no Sir," Laura replied quickly. "I guess I'm just surprised."
"I have it on good authority that everyone should enjoy this," Lorne said with a shrug, settling on one of the sofas. Laura was already sitting on the other one with Carson Beckett, Jennifer and Claudia both sitting comfortably on pillows on the floor.
"Sorry I'm late," Prue rushed in, throwing an awkward smile Evan's way before turning to Jennifer. "I hope I didn't delay you starting the movie."
"Of course not," Jennifer said reassuringly. "Major Lorne just revealed his choice." Shifting, Jenn made the rest of the introductions. "The Major you know. Carson too. Sitting next to him is Lieutenant Laura Cadman, usually posted to the Daedalus," the two women exchanged greetings," and this is Doctor Claudia Moon, diplomatic services." Claudia smiled in welcome.
"Thank you for including me," Prue said, frowning when she realised the only seat left was on the couch next to Lorne.
"You might be regretting that after you see what movie Major Lorne chose," Laura smirked at her CO. "Apparently he's urging us all to get in touch with our inner child. Madagascar," she added when Prue looked puzzled.
Prue nodded uncertainly, not commenting, her attention still on the seating arrangements. Laura watched with ill concealed interest - Evan knew she was carefully cataloguing the various reasons why someone he'd professed to only know from brief professional contact would be so obviously reluctant to sit beside him, but he ignored that in favour of easing Prue's entrance to the group.
"Pull up a pew Doctor," Evan told her, waving a casual hand in invitation. Prue smiled at him gratefully, finally moving forward.
Jennifer waited until everyone was settled before pressing the play button. Despite the teasing the adults quickly got involved in the simple tale, laughing at the jokes obviously included with big kids in mind.
"Why this movie?" Prue shifted closer, asking her question in an undertone.
"My nephew raved over it when my sister took him to see it last year," Lorne admitted. "Seemed like a safe choice."
"And you always play it safe," Prue observed.
"If the situation calls for it," Evan tried not to read more into her statement, or more to the point take it as a challenge.
"Shhh," Laura glared over at them. Prue and Evan exchanged guilty glances, laughing quietly before turning their attention back to the screen.
Lorne's choice turned out to be as enjoyable as he'd hoped, the mood on the up side when it was finished, which he judged would do all of them good. Laura and Carson left as soon as it was over, Carson winking at Lorne as he invited Laura to take a walk in the moonlight with him. The Daedalus would be leaving soon, the two eager to spend as much time together as possible. Claudia cited an early meeting as her excuse for following soon after.
"I need to go too," Prue announced. "Getting up at five every morning is really tiring."
"You get up at five?" Jennifer asked in surprise.
"Just the past few weeks," Prue said absently, standing and grabbing her jacket. "Thanks again for the invitation Jennifer. I enjoyed myself very much."
"You're welcome any time Prudence," Jennifer replied with a friendly smile. When Prue looked like she was just going to leave Jennifer glanced at Evan, raising her brow pointedly.
Not really needing the prompt, Lorne jumped up anyway, throwing Jennifer a quick thanks before hurrying after Prue. "Wait up Doc, let me walk you back to your quarters."
Prue stopped, turning to him with a frown. "It's not that far Major and I'm quite capable of finding my own way there," she said dismissively.
"Does everything have to be a battle with you?" Lorne shot back, exasperated. "Can't you ever just accept something as a genuine act of good will?"
"I do, all the time! Strangely I only have this kind of reaction with you! Why is that Major?" Prue retorted.
"You know why," Evan took a step forward, ending up flush against her when she held her ground. Raising a hand he took the mood into the seductive without hesitation, answering her challenge by cupping her cheek gently. "You can't tell me you don't feel something."
"I thought you weren't going to mention that kiss unless I did," Prue glared at him but she also shivered at his touch.
"I'm not, but I never said anything about the next one," Evan pulled her up to him as he leaned down, the one to take the initiative this time. Her words might have been a protest but she didn't resist or try to pull away. He made it tender ... needed it to be more than just sexual compatibility ... more so that Prue couldn't write it off as nothing like she had the first time they'd kissed.
She sighed, leaning into him, her arms moving up to his shoulders. She kissed him back too, let herself sink into his strength as he shifted to draw her closer. Evan really thought the result would be different this time but abruptly Prue was pulling away, a hand to her lips as she looked up at him with tears swimming in her dark eyes.
"Prue," he took a half step but stopped when she held up a hand.
"No," Prue cried. "I don't understand why you're doing this Evan! I'm not a likeable person – I'm stubborn and too focussed and most of the time I struggle to be objective about my work ... and I know there are things about me that will make you angry eventually." She struggled to calm down, trembling with the effort. "Can we just be friends, please?" she pleaded. "Because ... you can't care about me ...," swiping at the tears running down her cheeks she sniffed, "and I can't care about you." Throwing him a distraught look, she turned and fled.
"Too late for that," Evan muttered, staring after her for a moment before deciding it wouldn't be wise to follow her. Turning, he saw Jennifer standing in the rec room doorway, and let out a low groan. "Tell me you didn't catch all of that Doc."
"No can do Major," Jennifer said with an understanding smile.
"Great," Lorne ran a hand through his hair, looking at her carefully. "Can I ask you to keep what you saw to yourself? Prue and I are ... we're nothing, despite what you saw."
"You're not nothing," Jennifer protested. "I saw some real emotion between you and Prudence, Major."
"And it's irrelevant because Prue isn't interested in more than friendship," Lorne retorted. "My opinion doesn't come into it."
"It's easy to decide you want more without considering the complications when you know there's no chance it's actually going to be more," Jennifer said earnestly. "That's your position right now. What's Prue's?"
"Ah ... I'm not sure I get where you're going with this Jennifer," Lorne leaned against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. Ordinarily he'd never had discussed his personal life in the hallway with anyone, but Doctor Keller had caught him 'in the act' and trying to pretend otherwise seemed pointless. Besides, he liked Jennifer and if he ever needed a female viewpoint, now was the time.
"She's the one who has to make an active decision now Evan," Jennifer pointed out gently. "Just give her some time ... because from what I saw, despite what you think, she hasn't decided yet. It would be plain to anyone who witnessed that kiss that she does care about you as much as you care about her. Don't worry," she added when he looked uncomfortable with her conclusions. "Your secret is safe with me."
"I know that Jennifer," Evan put a hand to her shoulder gratefully. "Thanks for the advice."
"Anytime Evan," Jenn replied, smiling. "Maybe you can return the favour one day."
"Just say when," Lorne promised.
Movies of 2005 from themovieinsider dot com. Madagascar was released in late May to the cinema, no idea when it came out on DVD.
Chapter 21: Personal Coup
They had sent a team back to M4R-322 straight after the incident with the underground chamber but bizarrely there had been no sign of that energy signal both Lorne and Reed had picked up – the one that had led them to finding Prue and Kara and the site of more 'prophesy columns'. It was strange enough that another team was scheduled to go there the morning after movie night to take another look. The team went early in the day and returned a few hours later with the same conclusions - it was like that energy reading had never existed in the first place. Lorne couldn't explain it – comparing notes with Dan when the team met for dinner, they both agreed there had been an energy source somewhere near the ruins. They just couldn't prove it.
"Maybe we drained it somehow Sir?" Reed suggested.
"Maybe," Evan agreed. "It seems a little coincidental it would drain down to zero all by itself, but it has been a couple of weeks since the first team went back there so I guess it's possible." His tone made it clear he thought it improbable.
Lorne was expecting Prue wouldn't be impressed when she found out another team had gone to three two two, because she'd wanted to be the one investigating the potential discovery. Lorne was pretty sure it was only the fact that she wanted him to keep turning up for gene practice that had gotten him off the hook when the first team had gone back there. Of course, then he'd made the mistake of kissing her again ... things hadn't improved since then ... in fact she'd cancelled their usual morning meeting and he hadn't seen her all day.
"Don't go there," he told himself, impatient with how often his thoughts had returned to Prue since the previous night. "We'll have research teams going out there on a regular basis now to catalogue those columns," he told Reed, something he planned to discuss with Prue - while she hadn't been the best person to look for Ancient energy readings, she was the best they had for deciphering those columns. "If it's an intermittent thing then we might get lucky and have someone else detect it too."
"I bet Doctor McKay was disappointed," Nate commented with a faint smirk.
"Another possible ZeePM disappearing into myth," Lorne returned, amused. "Understandable. One is never going to be enough for McKay."
Nate's eyes shifted to look over Evan's shoulder but he hadn't needed that to know that someone – no, not someone, Prue – was standing behind him.
"Major," her voice was uncertain.
"Doctor," he returned, shifting so that he could look at her properly.
"I ah ... have you got a minute?" she glanced at his team mates and then refocussed on him. "Privately?"
"Sure, of course," Lorne stood, waiting for her to pick somewhere she'd consider private in the busy Mess Hall.
Prue glanced around, frowning. "Not here," she muttered, leading him from the room and then stopping in the corridor outside. "I ah ... I wanted to apologise."
"For what?" Lorne asked.
"For what happened last night," Prue said, keeping it vague.
"As I recall, I kissed you Doc," Lorne reminded her, perversely enjoying the blush that rose on her cheeks at his blunt statement.
"I know but I made too much of it," Prue persisted. She looked up at him almost shyly. "I'd ... I really want to be friends Major."
"Then we'll be friends," Evan said simply.
"Really?" Prue blinked, clearly surprised at his easy agreement.
"Really," Lorne confirmed. "Listen, dinner's not over. Why don't you join us right now?"
"I – okay," Prue smiled. "Thank you Major."
"No problem Doc," Lorne put a hand to her back instinctively, and just as quickly moved it away when the resulting zing reminded him that, while they might be going down the friendship road, as far as his 'instincts' were concerned there was a lot more there.
Nate's brow rose when Prue returned with Evan, taking a seat next to the Major. When Nate caught his CO's eye, Evan shook his head subtly, the message clear ... 'nothing to write home about here buddy.'
That was the beginning of the most frustrating period in Lorne's personal life to date. He'd agreed to be friends – what other choice did he have? – but he couldn't get Prue out of his head. She'd begun creeping under his skin from the day they'd met and although he should have avoided her as much as possible, Evan couldn't stop himself from making their friendship real, from taking any chance to be with her.
Gene practice most mornings, more sunrises, meals with his team ... over the space of the next few weeks they did all that, settling into a regular routine that quickly became Evan's definition of a normal day. They were seen around the city together enough that Lorne was sure the gossips were talking up a storm, betting on when their obvious friendship would become more. Since it was part and parcel of living in what was a small community, Evan ignored it, a part of him amused that Prue didn't have to ignore it because she was completely oblivious to all of it.
She captivated him – it was a struggle not to show her how much sometimes.
They talked about all manner of things, argued too sometimes if their points of view clashed, and just as quickly agreed to disagree. They spent time together for no particular reason. Evan was seeing a side to Prue he'd known was there but never experienced firsthand – a side that had him learning more about her, that had him realising it would never be enough to satisfy the urge to know her completely.
After so much time together he no longer needed to touch her to be reminded that he was attracted to her as much as any man had ever been attracted to a woman. That zing of connection when he touched Prue was the least of his problems because now he just had to be within touching distance and he felt it – like hovering electricity that only waited for him to touch metal before it punished him with an electric shock.
At first it was all kind of enervating, but as the weeks passed and he realised all the non-friendship feelings he had weren't going to just disappear, the frustration started to kick in. He couldn't tell Prue he wanted to go back to their strictly professional relationship, especially not now that he and his team had become such an integral part of her life ... it wasn't in him to be cruel and doing so wouldn't fix his problem anyway. He had a sinking suspicion nothing short of one of them leaving the city was going to fix it, although part of him wondered whether even that would do the trick.
And the frustration continued to build.
"I see from Doctor Darnell's weekly report that you've been helping her conduct some research into the ATA gene," Doctor Weir commented. She and Lorne were having one of their regular meetings to review new staff placement ahead of the Daedalus's next trip, and had just concluded the standard portion of that.
"Yes Ma'am," Evan said easily. "I've been meaning to mention for a while that I was following up on your suggestion." When Elizabeth looked momentarily puzzled, he clarified. "That practice might improve use of the gene Ma'am. I stumbled across some information in the Ancient database that kind of suggested you might be right."
"Oh, of course," Weir smiled. "And do you have any conclusions Major?"
"It's a little hard to say Ma'am," Lorne admitted. "Doctor Darnell probably explains it better, but as I understand it, to measure progress scientifically you need an accurate baseline."
"And measuring anyone's base expertise with the gene has always been difficult," Weir concluded.
"Exactly," Lorne shrugged. "I can tell you that some things seem a little easier, but I can't tell you if that's because I've been actively trying to use the gene more or because I'm just doing things I wouldn't have thought to do prior to helping with Prue's research."
"We need a way to determine what an individual can do with the gene," Elizabeth commented.
"Do we Ma'am?" Lorne countered.
Elizabeth looked at him, surprised. Lorne wasn't a pushover but no one would describe him as outspoken either.
"I'm not trying to play devil's advocate here," Evan explained earnestly. "It just seems to me that a large part of the gene is the way the person thinks. If we try to set in concrete with some kind of test what we think a person can achieve then it doesn't allow for circumstances bringing out unusual performance." He met her eyes, his expression serious. "I've seen it in battle Ma'am ... soldiers finding strength beyond what anyone would have expected, carrying a wounded comrade for miles, surviving injuries no one should survive ..."
"So you're saying that if we rank the strength of anyone's gene, it will in turn determine what they can do," Weir summarised thoughtfully.
"In some cases, yes," Lorne agreed. "Take the command chair for example. Doctor Beckett can activate it but he's uncomfortable with the fact that he can blow a hole in the city with a stray thought."
Elizabeth smiled fondly. "Yes, Carson has always exhibited reluctance to make use of his gene for anything beyond medical applications."
"He's strong ... he just doesn't want to be," Evan commented.
"You're right Major," Weir agreed. "We'll hold off on assigning resources to measuring gene strength. For now we'll continue to use the chair merely to identify anyone with latent natural ability."
"I'll continue to assist Doctor Darnell as well," Lorne said briskly. "I'll update you personally if we discover anything that goes against what we already know."
"Thank you Major," Elizabeth said, closing off their meeting.
"Hey Piper, Rob," Lorne smiled at the camera a week or so later, imagining Piper and her husband sitting in their home watching him. "I trust everything's going okay with you. And Shannon – I bet she's grown so much I wouldn't recognise her." His smile dropped at that but he pushed on – his own personal rule not to scrap and start again any time he sat down to record a message for back home. If he was going to censor himself there was no point in recording anything.
"So, anyway, I'm okay – I know you like me to get that out of the way up front, give you a reprieve from all that worrying you've probably been doing," he grinned again, knowing Piper would be giving him grief over being cavalier about his health and safety if they'd been talking in person. "We've had our fair share of ... situations ... but no permanent damage done. It's been quiet for a few weeks actually. Prue thinks -," he stopped abruptly. Sure, he'd mentioned Prue in passing shortly after meeting her, something about finally finding someone as good as Piper at putting him in his place – only nowhere near as nice. There'd been nothing to raise the flags with Piper in his manner then because he'd genuinely thought little more of Prue than what he'd said.
At that stage Prue had annoyed him more than anything else. Now though, now he'd had his lips on Prue's, now he'd had her body plastered against his and contemplated doing a hell of lot more than just kissing her ... mentioning her had been a mistake because Piper would know there was more to it.
"Damn," he muttered, looking back to the camera. "I could just delete this and start again but ... hell Piper - maybe you can give me some perspective, because I've completely lost mine."
He chuckled harshly, directing an intent glance to his long distance audience. "There's something there Piper – with Prue ... but I'm stuck in the 'just friends' zone. She told me outright that she doesn't want to get involved with anyone right now. I can respect that – I'm not convinced enough that pursing her wouldn't be a major mistake to try to change her mind, and there are rules that maybe apply as well – I haven't checked that out either." He smiled self deprecatingly. "It's not the first time I've asked – in a manner of speaking – and gotten knocked back. But here's the thing," he looked down at the floor for a moment before pressing on. "Getting anywhere near her is like being plugged into an energy source – I don't know how else to describe it. I can't avoid her Piper – because of the job and because of this insane friendship we've got going. I can pretend I'm not affected, but if this goes on indefinitely it's gonna drive me insane. So you know, if you have any advice on how the hell I'm supposed to handle this, I'm all ears."
Growling in frustration, Lorne leaned forward and hit the mouse button with unnecessary force, stopping the recording. When the message came up asking him if he wanted to save he hesitated for a moment and then clicked on No, slamming his laptop shut and just barely restraining himself from throwing the mouse against the nearest wall. Not only was Prue keeping him awake at night, now she had him breaking his own rules too.
He needed a break. His team had an off world mission the following day – one of the regularly scheduled trips they'd set up to help the communities they'd tried to forge ties with. Usually they stayed overnight – it was only a brief reprieve from having to deal with Prudence Darnell, but he'd take it.
Ducking behind the counter just before a spray of bullets hit the wall behind him, Lorne tapped his radio. "Stay at the Gate and wait for our backup," he ordered Doctor Lindsay grimly. Leaning out, he sent a burst of P-90 fire out the window to where their attackers were holding position. Whoever they were they'd caught Evan and his team by surprise, pinning them down inside the house before they'd even had a chance to get an accurate count on numbers. The only good news was that Doctor Lindsay had been downstairs when the first shots were fired and, on Lorne's orders, had managed to get away without being seen. She'd already radioed Atlantis and reported back to Evan that Colonel Sheppard's team was on the way. All they had to do was hold out until help arrived.
"We have you surrounded Major Lorne," a male voice called out. "It is only a matter of time before you run out of ammunition. Surrender now and I can make your captivity a more pleasing experience."
Lorne exchanged glances with Coughlin. "They know us ... that narrows down the field considerably."
"Genii," Nate suggested.
"That'd be my guess too," Evan agreed. "Unless we've made other enemies who've previously had access to our personnel records?"
"No, they'd be the only ones with enough knowledge to name names Sir," Coughlin replied. "And now they know Atlantis wasn't destroyed."
"We haven't exactly stayed at home since then," Lorne pointed out, "and enough people recognise us as coming from Atlantis to make that an impossible secret to keep in the long term." The mission where they'd met Teneo and his granddaughter was a case in point – there'd been no chance to decide one way or another to keep Atlantis a secret from them because Kara had recognised their origins immediately, making the decision for them.
"What are we going to do Sir?" Reed asked, looking ready to rush their attackers and attempt to shoot his way out of trouble.
"Conserve ammo until Colonel Sheppard gets here," Lorne returned. "How many clips you got left?"
Reed didn't have to check before answering. "One, Sir."
"Me too," Coughlin added.
"I've got two but ...," he grimaced, glancing back towards the windows.
"It's not gonna be enough," Nate finished.
"Time is running out Major Lorne," the guy who appeared to be in charge of their current predicament yelled. A hail of bullets hit the front of the building, sending stone chips flying.
In response, almost as one the three men returned fire, concentrating on where the bullets had come from.
Regrouping as the dust settled, Lorne frowned. "This isn't random," he muttered. "They want us for some reason. "
"You are quite correct Major." The complacent announcement was accompanied by the cocking of a rifle above their heads, sounding very loud in the sudden silence.
Lorne looked up to the balcony on the second floor, doing an instant head count. Four guys, all armed, all with the high ground, and all ready to shoot at the first sign of resistance.
They were screwed.
"Say nothing," Evan ordered Coughlin and Reed grimly before slowly getting to his feet, holding his P-90 out in one hand in a non threatening manner.
"Major Lorne I presume?" another man stepped forward into the light.
"That's right," Evan agreed. "And you are?"
"Ladon Radim," the man said, throwing a canister down to them.
Acrid smoke rose from the floor to surround them – Lorne tried to hold out as long as possible but eventually he had to breathe. In seconds the gas had overwhelmed him and he slumped back to the floor, unconscious.
Lorne came to with a groan. Wincing at the pounding in his head, he opened his eyes and slowly sat up. The floor seemed to spin under him and he was suddenly glad the attack had come before they'd eaten dinner. "God," he muttered, squeezing his forehead as he looked around, swallowing down the nausea.
They were in a holding cell – large, lots of metal mesh that looked too tough for any of the tools he'd usually have on him. Glancing down at himself his confusion deepened. Instead of his own uniform Evan had been dressed in the Pegasus version of civvies. Patting a hand to his chest and not finding the usual impression of his dog tags sticking out, Lorne had a sick inkling of why that was.
There wasn't a lot of light in the cell, or in the larger space it was contained in. Lorne squinted at the shapes scattered around him. The relief was instantaneous when he saw Reed and Coughlin lying on the floor a few steps away – both similarly dressed in unfamiliar attire. Thankfully he'd left Jimmy back in the city, Doctor Lindsay taking the fourth place on the team. One less person he had to worry about.
Apart from his team there were another six guys in the cell, all stretched out on the floor unconscious – all members of Atlantis teams, all currently engaged in off world missions, as far as Atlantis was aware. Getting to his feet, Lorne swayed unsteadily – whatever the hell that gas had been it packed quite a punch. Steeling himself he moved to Coughlin first, checking for and finding a strong pulse. Giving his 2IC a sharp shake he was rewarded with a groan and enough movement to be sure that Nate would be awake soon. Moving to Reed next, Lorne did the same thing. When his men were fully awake they moved to sit on benches stretched out along one side of the cell.
"They took our gear and clothes," Nate commented in an undertone.
"I'm guessing whatever they want us for, part of it's about either convincing our people they've got us or placing us somewhere other than here."
"Someone's out there wearing our stuff, pretending to be us?" Reed looked insulted by that.
"That would be the logical conclusion," Lorne agreed.
"Does that mean what I think it means Sir?" Dan asked, dismayed.
"Yeah it does," Evan sighed. "Any smart kidnapper is gonna move his subjects somewhere else. When Colonel Sheppard works out that whoever's wearing our gear isn't us, they still won't know where to look. For the time being we're on our own."
"Well that sucks," Nate muttered.
The time passed slowly.
Lorne got updates from the other Atlantis teams, also caught unawares on previously friendly planets. They hadn't worked out why this Ladon Radim wanted them yet ... for that Evan really needed to talk to the man again himself.
He got that chance sooner than he'd hoped. When two guards came to the cell and pulled him roughly to his feet, Lorne shook his head at his men. They needed information, not useless and probably lethal heroics. Letting himself be dragged away with little resistance, Evan was taken to another room, this one smaller and without the jail cell. Instead there was a lab set up that looked like something out of Lorne's early science classes. At the central table sat the man Evan wanted to talk to.
"Sit down Major," Ladon said briskly.
"Why?" Lorne questioned with casual interest rather than arrogant distain.
"Because if you don't I'll return you to your cell and choose one of your men instead," Ladon replied with an amused smirk.
"Good reason," Evan took the offered seat, glancing around curiously. "You make all this yourself or buy it cheap at some geek's garage sale?"
"Raise your sleeve," Ladon ignored Lorne's taunts, preparing his tools with calm efficiency.
Evan hesitated for a moment, eyes moving to the two guards standing either side of the doorway before tracking back to where Radim waited patiently, a syringe in hand.
Silently, Lorne unbuttoned the unfamiliar shirt sleeve, folding it up with brisk purposefulness. Once his arm was bare to just above his elbow, Evan lowered in to the table in front of his host.
Ladon looked at him for a moment, wondering at the unflinching cooperation he was getting from Atlantis's military second in command.
"You looking to push us out of the city again?" Evan asked conversationally, giving no outward sign of pain when Radim inserted the needle and drew out a sample of Lorne's blood.
"I'm a scientist," Ladon said, focussed on the samples. "Just because I made the weapons doesn't mean I agree with how they were used."
"And yet here you are, taking without asking again," Evan shook his head. "I guess your mother never told you that you win more flies with honey than with vinegar."
"Do you and Colonel Sheppard set out deliberately to be obtuse?" Ladon looked annoyed now.
Lorne was satisfied that he getting to Radim, not to mention amused at being compared to his CO. "Nothing in it for me to be the honey," he said, watching as the other man prepared a Petri dish with a drop of his blood before adding another solution and watching the mix carefully. "You looking for something in particular?" Lorne queried, keeping it to casual interest.
"I think you know very well what I'm looking for Major," Ladon returned impatiently. "The Ancient gene."
"Oh – that," Evan nodded. "What makes you think I have it?"
"The information we took from your database was quite extensive," Ladon smiled with a touch of arrogant pride. "We have a full list of everyone possessing the gene, either naturally like yourself, or artificially through Doctor Beckett's treatment. Your mistake was in thinking your people are the only ones capable of scientific advances."
"You're trying to manufacture your own version of the artificial Ancient gene," Lorne concluded, his expression turning abruptly serious. The last thing the Pegasus galaxy needed was for the Genii to be running around activating anything Ancient they could get their hands on. From what he'd read, discretion was a word that hadn't made it into the Genii dictionary. "To what purpose?"
"Taking away your advantage is purpose enough Major," Ladon returned, "but as it happens I have another reason for levelling the playing field. Your people have tools that would help my people greatly."
"The Puddle Jumpers and drones," Lorne laughed harshly. "You do realise you need more than the right gene to be able to fly something."
"Your people don't seem to have any trouble Major," Radim pointed out calmly.
"That's because we already have flight capability!" Lorne shook his head. "But hey, don't let me put a spanner in your works. It might cost us a Jumper but it'd be worth it to see you parking one nose down in the dirt."
"Nice try Major," Ladon seemed amused rather than insulted by Lorne's conclusions about Genii capability. Looking back to his experiment he grimaced.
"Results not to your liking?" Lorne queried with a deliberate smirk.
Rather than respond, Ladon cast a glance at his guards, nodding silently to where Evan sat. As one the two moved forward, dragging Lorne up.
It wasn't much of an opportunity but Lorne decided to take his chances anyway. Spinning, he took the two with him in a wide arc that had one slamming against the wall and then sliding to the floor unconscious. The other stumbled into Radim's table. Beakers shattered on the stone floor and equipment rattled. Reversing direction Evan shook the last guard loose, burying his fist in the man's gut before following up with a blow to the back of his head.
The click of a gun being cocked stopped him in his tracks.
"A foolish mistake Major," Ladon said calmly, weapon pointed at Lorne's head.
"Maybe," Lorne agreed, equally calmly. "You gonna shoot me now?"
"Eventually, yes," Radim seemed quite comfortable with planning Evan's death – clearly he wasn't the average geeky scientist. "When I've perfected my gene treatment and no longer require a direct source." Picking up a small walkie talkie like device he radioed for someone to come and escort Lorne back to his cell, keeping his weapon trained on Evan the whole time.
"Atlantis will send someone for us," Lorne said with certainty.
"I'm counting on it Major," Ladon replied smugly.
Eyes narrowed, Lorne looked at the Genii scientist assessingly. He wasn't sure what the man's plan was, but for certain it wasn't just about acquiring lab rats to fuel his gene research. Evan wanted to question Ladon further but the requested soldiers arrived and without another word being said Lorne was escorted back to the cell. One of them slammed the butt of his rifle into Evan's stomach before they threw him coughing and wheezing into the cell.
"Sir," Coughlin dropped down beside his CO, watching concerned as Lorne struggled to get his breath back.
"That hurt ... just a little," Evan quipped when he could finally speak again. Putting a hand to his stomach he winced, sitting up with a groan. The guards had retreated so Lorne quickly filled his men in on what he'd learned. Once done he looked at Coughlin intently. "Maybe he knows you don't have the gene Sergeant, and maybe he doesn't. Until we find out the real plan here you stay in the background. I don't want to give Radim the chance to decide you're surplus to his requirements."
"But -," Nate began to protest.
"Not this time Nate," Evan interrupted. "You'll follow my orders without embellishment. The next time the guards come to take one of us to Radim you'll make yourself as scarce as possible. Understood?"
"Yes Sir," Coughlin replied reluctantly.
"Don't worry Sergeant," Lorne slapped a hand to the other man's shoulder. "Once Colonel Sheppard gets here I'm sure there'll be plenty of chances for you to get your own back."
"You really think so Sir?" Nate asked with exaggerated hopefulness, earning a laugh from everyone.
They spent the night in that cell, nine men sleeping on a cold stone floor, hungry and thirsty after minimal rations since their capture. Lorne circled around the possible reasons for their capture, not so much sleeping as dozing lightly. It all came back to the gene and how the Genii could use the fact that they'd captured men from Atlantis who had it. Was it really plausible that a civilisation with knowledge only to the level of a Rodney McKay high school science project could conceivably recreate something it had taken Carson Beckett, a fully qualified geneticist, months to perfect?
When morning came he was convinced the answer should be 'No', which left a number of possibilities for why Ladon was going through the motions of pretending he could equal Carson's work. For whose benefit? Commander Cowan? Someone on the Genii home world they'd never met? Without knowing why, coming up with a plan to convince Radim to let them go would be tricky. But as the ranking officer it was up to Lorne to find a way to get all his men out – without relying on Atlantis finding them first.
As the sunlight touched the tops of the high windows he sighed, wondering what Prue was doing back on Atlantis. He was missing a scheduled practice session. She'd probably worry when he didn't show up – unless someone had already told her his team was missing. That would worry her too ... despite telling him she couldn't care about him, Evan was pretty sure she did, as much as she allowed herself to anyway.
"So, what's the plan Sir?" Coughlin moved to greet his CO.
"No idea Sergeant," Evan replied. "I'm still at the formulating stage. When I move beyond that you'll be the first to know."
"Yes Sir," Nate smirked, directing his gaze to where the guards stood outside the walls of their cage. "You think Atlantis knows we're here?"
"They know we're somewhere," Lorne watched as two new guards greeted the old ones, changing shifts. "I don't think we can count on them finding us before Radim decides we've outlived our usefulness."
"Which would be?" Coughlin asked.
"At this point your guess is as good as mine," Evan shot his second a quick look. "This isn't what it seems Sergeant," he said with certainty. "Remember to stay back when they come for one of us. The blood tests for the gene are a smoke screen for something, but I'm not willing to assume they won't take the act all the way to killing anyone who turns up without it."
"Yes Sir," Coughlin nodded. "I wonder what they're doing back on Atlantis?" he said in a low tone.
"Hopefully planning an impressive rescue mission," Lorne suggested, the two men smiling at the thought.
"So, you really thought we were dead Sir?" Lorne asked. Sheppard had arrived a hour before, not exactly in a Puddle Jumper with drones blazing, but his appearance alone was good enough. Even though the Colonel was now sharing their cell, knowing Atlantis had found them lifted everyone's spirits.
"I lifted your dog tags off a burned to a crisp body myself Lorne, so yeah, we thought you were dead," John retorted.
"Sorry Sir," Evan returned, shooting his CO a look before returning his gaze to what was going on outside their cell. "Did ah ... was that common knowledge?"
"We hadn't planned your memorial service or anything but you know the Atlantis grapevine Major," Sheppard said. "News gets around."
"Right, of course," Lorne nodded, frowning. That meant -.
"I told her myself Evan," Sheppard offered casually.
"Told who Sir?" Evan hoped like hell he hadn't been that obvious about his feelings for Prue, but those hopes were dashed when John replied.
"Doctor Darnell," the accompanying look he gave Lorne shouting 'pul-lease, like you didn't know who I was talking about!'
"How'd she take it?"
"How do you think?" Sheppard asked incredulously. "I don't get all nervous and giddy when you're around Major and I was angry as hell and ready to ram my fist down the throat of anyone who looked like they'd had a hand in your demise." He shot Lorne a curious look before continuing. "She was understandably upset and pretty adamant I had it wrong. In fact she told me there was no way you could possibly be dead and then stalked away. You're gonna have to talk to her when we get back."
"You're not warning me off of getting romantically involved with one of the staff Sir?" Lorne asked, genuinely surprised.
"Are you romantically involved with Doctor Darnell, Major?" John queried.
"Ah ... not exactly," Lorne said, adding with a burst of honesty, "but I want to be. Is that a problem Sir?"
"Not for me," Sheppard grinned suddenly. "You might want to rethink your strategy though – Doctor Darnell doesn't strike me as the cooperative type."
Lorne laughed. "No, cooperative isn't the word I'd choose either."
"Look Evan ... the regs don't apply. She's a civilian contractor appointed with I.O.A approval – you can't influence her career," Sheppard looked at Lorne intently. "You could be accused of favouritism though so we'll play it safe. Tell her to send any requests she'd normally make to you directly to me from now on."
"Not that I don't appreciate the support Sir, but it's a little premature," Evan admitted. It pained him to have to explain but given his CO's willingness to help, he really had no other choice. "Ah ... she turned me down Sir – flat out refused to consider any kind of relationship. I don't see her changing her mind."
"Then look again," John ran a hand through his hair, adding additional spiky messiness to what was already there. "I'm not telling you what to do Evan ... and for God's sake don't start talking relationships in the office or I'll have to demote you out of earshot. Just ... if you decide on not taking no for an answer, it won't be a court marshal-able offence, okay?"
"Thank you Sir," Lorne kept a straight face, actually kind of touched that Colonel Sheppard had put aside a natural reticence to talk about personal stuff to reassure him. He'd never been friends with a commanding officer before ... that he'd managed to form a friendship with John Sheppard was just another one of the unique bonuses of being posted on Atlantis.
Walking through the gate back onto Atlantis Lorne felt the 'welcome home' rush of static – it had only been a couple of days but clearly that was enough for the systems to notice his absence and rejoice in his return. When Ladon Radim's true plan had been revealed Evan couldn't help but be a little impressed, even though he and his men had been unwitting pawns in a complex political game. Ladon had overthrown a guy everyone on Atlantis would cheer to see the back of, taken over as ruler of the Genii, and forged the basis for a new alliance with Atlantis, all with very little bloodshed. It was clever and troubling – Ladon Radim was a man they'd have to keep an eye on in the future.
Evan felt her eyes on him the instance he finished greeting a relieved Doctor Weir. Turning, blue eyes met brown, Lorne freezing as he registered a host of impressions from Prue. She looked pale, nervous, troubled. In fact she looked a lot more upset than he'd ever seen her and his return obviously wasn't helping.
He smiled then, at her – for her – but instead of giving him a smile in return, Prue took a shuddering breath, pressing her trembling lips together. And then she turned and ran – there was no other word for it – she didn't just hurry off, she broke into an almost sprint as soon as she cleared the Gateroom floor. Evan was so surprised at her reaction that she'd disappeared down the corridor before he thought to follow her.
"Major?" Colonel Sheppard moved to stand beside Lorne, Ladon Radim at his side.
"Sir," Evan kept his eyes on the spot where Prue had disappeared before turning to his CO. He wanted to talk to Sheppard, wanted to find out what exactly Radim had been doing with the blood samples he'd taken from Evan. An assurance that their new treaty included destroying those samples wouldn't go astray either. But he wanted to talk to Prue more. "If you'll excuse me Sir, ..." he trailed off, barely waiting for John's nod before he took off down that same corridor.
She should have been hard to locate – Atlantis was a big place – but somehow Lorne knew where to look, finding Prue sitting on the edge of the dock at the end of the south west pier. They'd walked there a few times when the weather was nice and Prue had commented that she found it calming.
She was watching the waves below and didn't acknowledge him when he sat down beside her.
"You okay?" he asked quietly.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked dismissively, still refusing to look directly at him. "I'm not the one who was brought back to the city in a body bag."
"Neither am I," Lorne reminded her.
"As far as I knew you were," Prue's voice trembled a little on that last word.
"Prue," he waited but she kept her face turned away. "Prue," he said again, shifting to cup her cheek as he gently raised her eyes to his. The brown depths were swimming in tears and she looked miserable. "I'm okay," Evan said firmly.
"I know," she whispered. "I just ... Colonel Sheppard told me you ... I was sure you couldn't be gone but at the same time part of me really thought you were dead."
"I'm sorry," Lorne leaned down until his forehead rested on hers. "I'm really sorry Prue."
Prue shuddered, the look in her eyes shifting from misery to something that made Evan's heart rate increase abruptly. They were close enough that it only took a little shift. One moment she was gazing into his eyes, the next she was kissing him with enough heat to melt a polar ice cap or two.
He didn't think about their agreement to be 'just friends', didn't worry that she'd try to rewind this kiss like she had the others. No – after weeks of frustrated desire, Evan just kissed her back, shifting his hand from her cheek to cup the back of her neck.
Prue wrapped her arms around him, holding on tightly. The position wasn't ideal – they were still sitting on the pier, legs still dangling over the edge. It didn't leave room for him to do what he really wanted ... to pull her closer and just consume her ... but maybe that was a good thing. He felt like he was on the cusp of a precipice he wasn't ready to see the bottom of.
"You were right," Prue broke away, burying her face against his neck, her breath sending shivers down his spine.
"Not that I don't like the sound of that, but I was right about what?" Lorne pressed his lips into her hair, breathing in her scent.
"I can't ignore this," Prue admitted, looking up at him earnestly. "If you still want to try ...," she trailed off uncertainly. The way she looked right then, the setting sun casting a halo over her dark hair, her eyes shiny with tears that spoke of longing and desire, was an image Evan didn't think he'd ever forget. He was sure, years into the future, that he'd be able to close his eyes and bring the moment to life as though it had just happened.
"Thank God for that," he muttered, leaning down to kiss her again.
Chapter 22: Foundations
Kissing Prue when it was a stolen moment Evan knew wasn't going to last had been intense, but it paled in comparison to their exchange after she caved and agreed they could finally move on from the friendship zone.
He lost his head a little, there on the dock with Prue in his arms. If the wind hadn't suddenly turned cold, raising goose bumps and a harsh shiver from Prue, who knows how far he'd have taken it.
Breaking away reluctantly, he rested his forehead against hers for a moment and then smiled. "Come on – let's get you inside."
Prue nodded, taking his hand and letting him draw her to her feet. They walked the halls of Atlantis together, her hand in his, oblivious to any reactions the sudden change in their relationship might have drawn.
Evan's mind was racing – on the one hand he wanted nothing more than to be invited into her quarters to continue what they'd started on the dock ... all the way to its inevitable conclusion. It surprised him to feel some hesitation though ... not because he didn't want Prue because, hell, he did! But he wanted other things more, and that was a surprise even to him.
Unexpected or not, by the time he'd walked them to Prue's quarters, Lorne had decided he wanted to take it slow. In fact, he was determined to do so. If they were going to be together in the longer term, and he wanted to believe they were, then there was no hurry to consummate their new relationship. In fact, rushing into a physical commitment before they'd enjoyed the fact that they were 'together' would just skip over a whole host of steps he suddenly wanted to enjoy.
Maybe he didn't want to cloud his thinking with what he knew would be mind blowing sex ... maybe he was worried Prue would pull the 'it's just a physical thing' card in the future if he couldn't prove to her it was more than that, up front, before they took things that far. She'd agreed to try them as a couple but never labelled anything with emotions – and maybe it was corny but Evan wanted the mental commitment from her more than he wanted the physical one. He'd been burned in the past ... "not the time to go there," he told himself ... at the end of the day he just didn't want to treat this, treat Prue, like he had any other relationship he'd had in the past. She was different ... and he wanted to be different with her.
When they got to her room, Prue turned to him, keeping hold of his hand. "Are you ...," she nodded to her door. It was late and the corridor was deserted ... giving him the feeling that they could have been the only two people in the city.
"Coming inside?" Lorne finished. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why not?" she asked, surprised.
"Come on Prue," he challenged. "You've really gone from not wanting to get involved to this," he gestured meaningfully between them, "so quickly?"
"I – yes I have," she said decisively.
"Well, maybe you can switch gears that quickly but I can't," Evan said gently. Taking both her hands in his, he met her eyes, let her see his resolve. "We both know where this is going but ... I want to wait."
"Wait?" Prue repeated the word like she'd never heard it before. "For what?" she asked, looking more worried than touched by his statement.
"Are you in some kind of hurry here?" Evan countered. "Got somewhere else you need to be?"
"Of course not," Prue retorted. "I just ... it's not my usual practice to throw myself at someone like I just did with you. I wouldn't have done that unless I thought you felt the same way."
"Oh, believe me, I do," Evan pulled her in and kissed her breathless to prove that point. "I just think we should get to know each other a little more, enjoying being together, before we take the next step. Okay?"
Her expression turned thoughtful, puzzled, as she looked up at him. "Okay," she agreed quietly.
"Thank you," Evan smiled, touching his lips to hers lightly in acknowledgement. "Now, I better let you get inside before someone comes by and we really give the city something to gossip about."
Prue laughed. "Surely everyone has more important things to talk about than our relationship."
"You know, you should really get out of your lab sometimes, walk amongst the common people," Evan teased. "Not everyone is as focussed on their work as you are."
"Is it a problem if there's gossip?" instead of reacting to his teasing, Prue looked worried again.
"Not for me," Evan said firmly. "You?"
"Since I didn't even know people were talking until you just said it, no, it won't bother me," Prue smiled. Putting her arms around his neck she pulled him down. "Since you're leaving, I'm going to need another kiss to tide me over."
"Is that right?" Evan smiled, even as he let her pull him all the way back to her lips. It was a different kiss – not light or teasing but not heated passion either. It was a connection, and a promise of more to come in the future.
"Good night," Prue said breathlessly, breaking away.
"Night," Evan returned, waiting until she'd disappeared inside before he walked away. "This is going to take some getting used to," he thought, more than happy to have the chance to make the effort.
That conversation set the tone for the weeks that followed. Apart from dinner dates most nights that ended at her door with the exchange of increasingly heated kisses, their relationship didn't change a great deal.
New relationships were interesting – no one even blinked when the changes between Lorne and Prue became obvious. They went from friends to a couple with barely a comment. Coughlin nodded approvingly the first time Evan walked to a team meal with his arm around Prue's shoulder, and had Prue blushing when he commented that Lorne couldn't have done better. Colonel Sheppard made a vague reference to new strategies having been effective. Radek expressed some admiration for Prue's intellect and knowledge of Ancient, and McKay didn't notice a thing. Lorne wasn't sure if anyone else had thoughts about his romantic relationship with a civilian but no one said anything, so he chose to go down the ignorance is bliss road. He was happy and determined to enjoy it.
Prue never mentioned her emotions and Lorne didn't ask. For himself, he was carefully not labelling anything as "anything" either, although phrases like 'never felt this way before' along with the knowledge that what he'd thought was love before couldn't have been because those emotions paled in comparison to what he felt now, often slid through his mind. He was down for the count but unwilling to concede defeat before Prue did.
"Lorne," Colonel Sheppard broke into a half jog, catching up with his second in command as the other man stepped into the transporter. Evan pressed the location where both their offices were situated, John waiting until they'd stepped out again before speaking. "Got a request from the I.O.A for someone to go to the SGC," he began. "They want a briefing on the Puddle Jumpers."
"Didn't you do that when you were there last time Sir?" Evan asked quizzically.
"Yeah – they want more," John replied. "Probably got some grand plan to reengineer a fleet for Earth."
"Probably," Lorne agreed. "Who are you looking at to go?"
"You Major," Sheppard said, smirking when Lorne's brow shot up in surprise. "You've been here more than nine months without a break – have you even taken a day off since you got here?"
"Have you Sir?" Evan already knew the answer to that question was a no.
"Touché," John glanced at Lorne curiously. "If you don't want a free trip home I can find another Jumper pilot to go instead ... none with your potential to confuse the I.O.A with technical crap they won't admit to not understanding though."
Evan laughed at that – the I.O.A were enough of a thorn in the Colonel's side that any chance to get his own back, no matter how small, was jumped on immediately.
"So, you interested?" Sheppard asked.
"Do I look stupid to you Sir?" Lorne replied.
"Excellent," John said with satisfaction. "Just make sure you give them the works – aerodynamics, specs, neural interface, and anything Ancienty that won't give away something tactically useful."
"Ancienty Sir?" Lorne queried. "Is that even a word?"
"It is today," Sheppard chuckled.
"I'll take care of it," Lorne promised. "When do they want this briefing?"
"Day after tomorrow – you've been given permission to gate in when we do the regular check in."
Lorne nodded, already thinking about the various things he'd have to delegate or reschedule. They'd arrived at Lorne's office by then and Evan moved to sit down at his desk, frowning when he realised John was still hovering in the doorway. "Was there something else Sir?" he asked.
"The Daedalus isn't scheduled to depart Earth for a few days after you get there," Sheppard said. "Take some time off Major, go see your family ... that's an order."
"Yes Sir. Thank you Sir," Evan smiled gratefully.
"And listen, if I was to get a request from Doctor Darnell for leave and it just happened to coincide with yours, it would probably be approved." Sheppard shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other as Lorne looked up, speechless. "In case you were thinking along those lines. All up you'll be gone for almost four weeks so I thought maybe you would be ...," he trailed off with a shrug.
"Ah ... that's ...," Evan cleared his throat, "that's very generous Sir. I'll mention it to Prue."
"You do that Major," Sheppard shrugged. "Let me know what you decide. Now, if you'll excuse me I have paperwork to finish."
"Really Sir?" Lorne said sceptically. "You have paperwork?"
"I don't pass it all on to you Major," John said defensively, "but as it happens, no, not really. You can tell Elizabeth I do when she comes looking for me though."
"What are you avoiding this time Sir?" Lorne asked, amused.
"Year-end employee reviews," Sheppard replied with a shudder. "They aren't due for a few weeks but she's already talking deadlines, after telling me point blank that I can't just pass them on to you to do. Which makes no sense by the way. You probably know most of our people better than I do!"
"The burdens of command Sir," Lorne intoned blandly. "I'd be happy to discuss each staff member with you before you fill out their review, if that'll help?"
"It would, and better than that, Elizabeth won't be able to protest," John grinned. "Nice!"
"Glad I could help Sir," Evan returned, shaking his head when his commanding officer almost bounced out of his office, Lorne would guess on his way to subtly let Doctor Weir know of his new plan. It wasn't the first time Lorne had noticed that underneath it all John was often times just a big kid at heart.
Evan went to Prue's lab at the end of his shift to talk to her about his leave. In the few weeks they'd been 'going out' a natural routine emerged that included him stopping by at the end of the day. Lorne liked Prue's lab ... because it was hers alone - a visual slice of that side of her and she often had that 'scientist' air of distraction about her that he found rather endearing. Usually he had to encourage her to put aside her work to go and eat with him – Jennifer hadn't been wrong in labelling Prudence as a workaholic.
Lorne actually felt a little nervous approaching her lab now – in effect he was going to ask her to come home with him and meet his family, and that was a big step in any relationship, let alone one as new as theirs. He hadn't missed the vague comment here and there that suggested Prue had issues with Earth but he was hoping they wouldn't extend to going back with him.
"Hey." He smiled when she looked up, a surge of happiness at seeing him evident in her expression.
"Evan," she frowned suddenly, looking at her watch. "Wow, where did that time go?" she murmured.
"Where all your time goes, on deciphering tiny, squiggly lines," Evan teased. Walking to her side he put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. That zinging leap of excitement when they touched was still there, expected now but still new, and he wondered if it would always be that way. Usually they'd head straight for the mess hall but today he leaned down to kiss her before motioning for her to stay seated. "I had something I wanted to talk to you about before we eat."
"What is it?" Prue asked, frowning at his uncharacteristic seriousness.
"Okay, so Colonel Sheppard came to see me today," Evan began. "He needs someone to brief the I.O.A back at the SGC – and he wants me to do it."
"When do you leave?" Prue's face was blank.
"Day after tomorrow," Lorne replied. "Listen, the Colonel wanted me to offer you leave as well."
"What?" Prue stood abruptly, staring at him in dismay.
"Leave, back on Earth, with me," Evan reiterated, getting up too. "If you want it."
"I don't," she said bluntly. "But please, thank Colonel Sheppard for me when you decline his offer." Stepping around him she retook her seat, fingers flying over the keyboard.
"That's it?" Evan demanded. "Thanks but no thanks?"
"My work is at a crucial stage," Prue said defensively, "and there's nothing for me back on Earth."
"Except for me," Evan turned away, hands on his hips, trying not to make an erroneous conclusion. "You should have said there's nothing for you on Earth aside from me."
"Don't do that!" Prue jumped up, grabbing his forearm and pulling him around to face her. "Don't take this personally ... please. I just ... I can't go back to Earth, Evan. Please try to understand."
"I would if you'd cut the mysterious act and just tell me what'd behind all this!" Evan retorted. "Because this isn't the first time you've said something that frankly sounds more than a little ominous! Are you in trouble back on Earth Prue? Is that why you use words like "can't" instead of "won't"?"
"I'm not in trouble," Prue insisted, resting her palms flat on his chest. "But I need to be here ... we need this translation program."
"For what?" Evan covered her hands with his, squeezing them insistently.
"For the future!" Prue pulled on her hands but he didn't let go. With a shudder she shifted forward, dropping her head to rest against him. "I know this sounds insane and ... I have things I can't tell you, not yet. You have to trust me in this Evan ... something is coming and you have to be ready ... and I have to help you be ready."
"You're not making any sense Prue," Evan shook his head, resting a hand over her hair. "Okay, listen, I'll tell Colonel Sheppard I can't go -,"
"No!" Prue looked up abruptly. "No. You have to do your job Evan. Trust me ... everything will be fine here while you're away. Go, see your family. I'll be okay – I promise."
Evan hesitated, his eyes locked to hers. He didn't want to give in. In fact he wanted to keep arguing until she told him every thought in her head, until he'd convinced her to trust him enough to offload whatever it was she was carrying around. But he knew Prue ... she was stubborn and when she dug her heels in no amount of pushing would get her to back down. It would have the opposite effect, sending her retreating into a silence he wouldn't break. He'd have to bide his time, look for something to break down her defences so she'd have no choice but to tell him her secrets.
"Fine," he finally told her grimly. "But just so you know ... I'm pissed about this Prue. When I get back we'll be talking about it again."
"How long?" Prue's lips quivered and she pressed them together, that stubbornness there in spades.
"How long will I be gone?" Evan finished. "Four weeks, give or take a couple of days."
"Oh," Prue looked dismayed.
"Eighteen days coming back on the Daedalus. I'm lucky they're letting me gate in, otherwise it'd be nearly twice that."
"I thought maybe you'd get to gate back as well," Prue admitted.
"Sadly I'm nowhere near important enough to warrant use of the Antarctic ZPM," Evan said ruefully.
"You are to me," she said starkly.
Their eyes locked and everything seemed to stop, allowing Evan time to read the emotions in her eyes. She meant it – right then he was the most important thing in the world to her, but it made her unhappy because she didn't want to depend on anyone, not even him.
"So what you're saying is you'll miss me ... during the five minutes or so you won't be hunched over that console while I'm gone," he quipped, teasing in an effort to lighten the mood.
"Something like that," Prue laughed. "You could kiss me Major – that might make me feel better."
"Let's see," Evan cupped her face and lowered his lips to hers, drinking her in. He kept it light, teasing her with feathery caresses that never settled fully. "How's that?"
"More," she demanded, threading her fingers through his hair and pulling him down. Where he'd been teasing she was purposeful, nipping at his bottom lip until he opened for her and then taking him over with a kiss that could only be described as carnal.
She pressed her curves to him too, so that every time she shifted or surged forward while their mouths mated, the 'right' parts of her brushed against the right parts of him. He felt a wave of heat sweep over him and it took everything he had to slowly bring it back down from almost boiling over to slow simmer.
"Oh, don't tell me you're -," Prue protested, grabbing his shirt in her fists and jerking him forward impatiently.
"Taking a raincheck," Evan got in before she could put another, less attractive label on his withdrawal. "Yeah, I am. I'm gone for a month after tomorrow and there is no way I'll be able to concentrate if I'm thinking about what it's like to have you."
"You mean you won't be thinking about it anyway?" Prue looked momentarily insulted and he laughed.
"Hell yes," he agreed. "Anticipation is one thing Prue. Knowing is something else entirely. Besides," he leaned down until his mouth was beside her ear, "when we finally do the deed, once won't be enough," he whispered. "Days might not be enough."
She shivered as his breath skimmed her neck even as she laughed. "Do the deed? That's what you're calling it?"
"For now," Evan looked at her intently. "I'd have called it 'making love' but I don't want to scare you."
She gulped, blinking up at him mutely.
"I can see that was a wise decision," he added blandly. Taking advantage of her momentary speechlessness he gave her a hard kiss and then stepped back. "I need to talk to Colonel Sheppard so I'll catch up with you later, okay?"
She nodded, pressing a hand to her lips, standing frozen in place while he walked away.
"Colonel, can I talk to you?" Lorne stood beside team Sheppard's table, holding himself stiffly in place. "In private," he added, not looking at his CO's companions.
"Sure," John got up, nodding towards the empty balcony. "That good enough?" he asked.
"Yes Sir," Evan agreed, not saying anything else until they were there and the door closed.
"What can I do for you Major?" Sheppard asked.
"Two things Sir," Lorne said briskly. "One – I spoke to Prue and she declined your offer for leave at this time. Told me to tell you thanks."
"Is that a problem for you?" John watched his second carefully, looking for a real reaction amidst the man's usual in control facade.
"Right now, no Sir," Lorne returned sincerely. "Ask me the same thing if we were a few months down the track and I'd be giving a different answer."
Sheppard nodded. "And the second thing?"
"A favour Sir," Evan let John see his worry as he continued. "I'd really appreciate it if you could keep an eye on Prue while I'm away. Maybe have Teyla look in on her now and then. I don't have anything concrete to base it on but I'm ... I'm concerned Sir."
"You think something might happen while you're gone?" Sheppard queried, frowning.
"Not exactly," Lorne shook his head. "Like I said, there's no real reason for me to be worried."
"But you'd feel better if you knew someone was looking out for Prue," John concluded.
"Yes Sir," Evan agreed.
"Then consider it done," John promised.
"Thank you Sir," Lorne relaxed, dropping the tense posture he hadn't realised he'd been holding. "I'll let you get back to your dinner." Dipping his head briskly, Evan turned and quickly left the balcony, leaving a bemused Colonel frowning after him.
The Stargate was active regularly enough that any individual departure or arrival usually garnered no special attention. Lorne didn't want to count on that, given he was going back to Earth which wasn't a regular thing, so he told Prue goodbye the evening before he left. He had a very early departure to maximise his day at the SGC – there was no reason why both of them had to miss sleep.
The control room was still on minimal, night shift staffing when Evan strode in, his pack over his back. "Dial it up," he told Chuck, on duty in the place of the usual night guy so he could send through the weekly transmission early.
"Yes Sir," Chuck started punching in the familiar address. The burst of not water shot out of the gate a few moments later, the technician sending through the IDC for Atlantis and getting a quick confirmation back.
"General Landry, I have Major Lorne here Sir."
"Ready to come pay us a visit Major?" General Landry asked.
"Yes Sir," Lorne replied briskly.
"The doors open, come on through," Landry said.
"Send the transmission," Lorne told Chuck before jogging lightly down the stairs to the Gateroom floor.
"Evan!" Prue's voice had him turning, just in time to catch her when she launched herself in to hug him. "Be careful," she said, squeezing him tight.
"It's Earth Prue," Lorne replied, smiling in bemusement. They didn't avoid public displays of affection but a hand hold or an arm around a shoulder was subtle – a public farewell in the gate room wasn't. Internally it amused him to realise that he kind of liked it. "I'll be fine."
"It's the SGC," Prue reminded him. "And weren't you the one who said there's no such thing as one hundred percent safe."
"I thought it was obvious I meant when it comes to you," Evan smirked. "I can take care of myself."
"That list of injuries Nate gave me says otherwise," she said pointedly.
"I knew it was a mistake to let you spend so much time with my team," he shook his head in dismay but a smile played across his lips.
"The transmission has gone through Major," Chuck interrupted them apologetically. "They're expecting you."
"Sure, of course," Evan glanced down at Prue and then around the still mostly deserted room, before grinning. "What the hell," he muttered, pulling her in and kissing her senseless. She was off balance and still swaying slightly when he pulled away and left her standing there, passing briskly through the wormhole.
"Welcome home Major," General Landry greeted him.
"Good to be back Sir."
Chapter 23: Maybe it's not so good to be Ancient after all!
Lorne had his I.O.A briefing a couple of hours after his arrival, giving him just enough time for a quick breakfast – although, given it was after ten at the SGC he really should be calling it brunch.
"There he is," Daniel Jackson threw himself into the chair across from Lorne. "How's Atlantis Evan?"
"You should come to Pegasus, see for yourself," Lorne replied casually.
"Do me a favour, tell Jack that," Daniel said feelingly.
"Even if he were here for me to speak to, do you think he'd listen to me?" Evan laughed. "You're his favourite archaeologist, remember?"
"Right, good point," Daniel sighed. "So, how are things really going there?"
"We have our share of situations but overall I'd say pretty well," Lorne replied, leaning back in his chair. "The Wraith have been quiet lately – makes you wonder what they might be cooking up next." He sighed, turning his attention away from Atlantis and back to home. "The conflict with the Ori?"
"Could be better," Daniel said in that way of his. "Listen, I've been meaning to send you a message ... about what happened to SG-6. I know they were your team before you left. I'm sorry Evan – Colonel Barnes was a good man."
"He was," Lorne agreed simply, not trying to hide the fact that the fate of his prior team saddened him.
"I know it's no consolation to you but it could have turned out a lot worse," Daniel offered. "We were looking at a global epidemic – billions potentially dead within days. Orlin used what he learned from the first cases to work on the vaccine. We've already delivered it to the planets that need it most. That's an attack they can't hit us with again."
"Colonel Barnes would have found that satisfying," Evan agreed.
Daniel nodded, swirling his coffee slowly before taking a drink.
"Oh, hey, I've been working with someone you'd know – Doctor Prudence Darnell," Lorne tried to say Prue's name as casually as possible, interested in getting Daniel's impressions before admitting to a deeper relationship. It wasn't that he didn't believe Prue when she'd said she didn't have troubles back on Earth ... but that didn't mean whatever she was worried about didn't have its origins at the SGC.
"Darnell?" Daniel sounded the name carefully. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"It doesn't?" Lorne failed to completely hide his reaction.
"Sorry, no," Daniel squinted as he realised Evan was more than a little surprised. "What does she do?"
"Computational linguistics," Lorne replied. "She's working on the translation programs for Ancient and Wraith - concentrating exclusively on the Ancient one so far."
"I know of the project," Daniel nodded. "To be honest I'm still sceptical that it will deliver a viable result – given the differing dialects and the considerable shifts in the language over millennia."
"You sound like Prue," Lorne shrugged. "It's slow going – because of what you said, but she's pretty determined."
"What was she working on before she went to Pegasus?" Daniel asked curiously.
"No idea, beyond her mentioning that she spent a long time working at the outpost in Antarctica," Lorne offered, "apart from one mission to Colonel Maybourne's planet."
"Oh, well that would explain it," Daniel pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, blinking a few times. "I spent very little time at the Ancient outpost – short research trips mostly. I met very few of the personnel there. My job was just to find Atlantis – once that was done Jack recalled me back to the SGC." He looked at Lorne earnestly. "Sorry I can't say I know your friend Evan."
"No problem," Lorne was unreasonably relieved to have a plausible reason for Daniel not recalling having met Prue. "Half the time I still wonder if there are people living on Atlantis I haven't met."
"Not to mention all the sections you haven't explored yet," Daniel added. "Who knows what treasures you might uncover when you do?" His tone was wistful, his eyes distant, like he was looking at something only he could see.
"You really need to get General O'Neill to let you visit Daniel," Evan reiterated.
"I will – when the Ori are no longer a threat," Daniel promised.
"Yeah, well don't leave it too long or we'll have found all the treasure without you."
"Maybe you could mention that to Jack too," Daniel suggested, semi sarcastic.
Lorne laughed. "I will, next time I get invited to the Pentagon."
"Speaking of Maybourne," Daniel began.
"Were we?" Lorne asked mildly.
"We're going back to P88-013 in a couple of days – Harry has something he wants me to look at," Daniel continued. "You should come along."
"Why? Because I have such fond memories of the place?" Lorne asked sarcastically.
"Hey, nothing blew up," Daniel returned. "For us that's a good day. So, what do you say?"
"Sure, if I get called back early I'll tag along."
"Thank you Major Lorne," Gordon Rivers, the US representative and current head of the I.O.A said when Lorne concluded his presentation. "I must admit to being surprised at the many details you covered. I was under the impression that'd we'd requested someone strictly military to brief us, but you sounded more scientist than soldier."
"I am military Mr Rivers," Evan returned complacently. "Puddle Jumper technology is a complex area that covers both Ancient neural systems and well as standard avionics. I was told you required a full briefing ... I ah ... simplified it as much as possible."
"Of course Major," the IOA representative from China, Shen Xiaoyi, responded, amusement at Lorne's veiled insult to Rivers' intelligence evident in her eyes. "We appreciate your expertise as a pilot as well as someone born with the ATA gene. Could you tell us a little bit more about how the gene works?"
"That's not my area of expertise. I'm a pilot and geologist Ma'am, not a geneticist," Lorne pointed out. "If you want to know how the ancient gene works you should talk to Doctor Beckett."
"But you use the gene, do you not?" Ms Shen persisted. "Can you tell us about that?"
"Not much to tell," Lorne admitted with a casual shrug. "The Ancient's programmed their systems to recognise the presence of the gene. Take opening a door as an example. All we do is activate the access pad and think open - the city does the rest."
"And this works for natural and artificial gene holders alike?" Rivers asked.
"As far as we can tell, there's little difference," Lorne confirmed. "Some things respond a little better to a natural gene but we don't really know why."
"Again, thank you Major Lorne," Ms Shen said formally. "We understand that you'll remain on Earth for the next several days. Perhaps we can meet again later in the week to discuss any further questions we might have?"
"Sure, of course," Lorne agreed, knowing the drill. They'd get their experts to dissect his presentation and then come back at him with intelligent sounding questions that would just result in him repeating everything he'd already explained. That was the way the game was played though and Evan knew to play along.
Official duty done, Lorne was dismissed from active duty for a few days leave. Colonel Caldwell was more than happy to beam Even wherever he wanted to go – given they were in orbit anyway, and it hardly made sense for Evan to waste the time he had on travelling across the country. Maybe Caldwell wouldn't have been that amenable to everyone from Atlantis – Rodney McKay for example – but Lorne was well liked in both galaxies.
He picked Canada first. Short movies of Jon and Matt just weren't enough and he felt the need to see how much the two boys had really changed. Maybe he should have rung first but the idea of Elaine opening the door and seeing him standing there was too attractive to pass up.
"Evan?" She looked at him incredulously. "Oh my God! Evan!" Launching herself at him with a tearful laugh, Elaine wrapped him in an overly enthusiastic hug that had him staggering back.
"Lainee," he squeezed her tight, lifting her off the ground. "God I missed you."
"Let me look at you," Elaine stepped back but kept hold of her brother's hands, her eyes assessing him carefully. "You look older."
"Hey," he protested, pulling his hands away. "I can still turn around and go to Mom's instead."
"Not in a bad way," Elaine smiled fondly. "You just look, I don't know, more responsible. Serious. Not that you weren't before."
"I get it," Evan took his own turn at looking is sister over, noticing the paint specks on her face and in her hair. "You, on the other hand, look like you've been playing all morning."
"That's because I have," Elaine grabbed his hand suddenly, pulling him with her. "Oh gosh, the boys will be so excited to see you! Jon, Matty," she called out as she dragged Evan down the front hall.
The sounds of young feet slapping on the floor preceded the arrival of two little boys, one steady on his feet, the other stumbling but just as quickly righting himself.
"Uncle Evan!" Jon yelled Evan's name – loudly - not bothering to slow down even a little before he ploughed into his uncle's legs. Matt was a little less coordinated, and a lot less understandable in his babble – he didn't remember Evan from personal contact but still knew who was visiting, picking up on his older brother's excitement.
Lorne found himself quickly inundated, each boy clutching a leg, both talking at once. He didn't mind a bit – gently grabbing a hold of an arm each, he muscled Jon and Matty up until he had them clutched against his chest, one in each arm.
"Who are these little rascals?" he growled, burying his head in their tummies amidst infectious peals of laughter.
"It's us Uncle Evan!" Jon crowed. "Jon and Matty. Is you on an ad-ven-ture?" he said the last word carefully, looking at his mother for an approving nod that was promptly delivered with a smile.
"I'm not ... unless you have an adventure you need some help with?" Evan looked at his nephew expectantly.
"Do I!" Jon wriggled until Evan put him down and then grabbed his uncle's hand, pulling him insistently. "Come on Uncle Evan. I'll show you!"
Lorne glanced over at his sister, brow raised.
"Go," she gave him permission to 'go and play', laughing. "I'll call Drew – tell him you're here."
"Cool," Evan turned to Jon. "Lead the way young man."
Jon hugged Evan's hand to his chest for a moment and then took off, Evan following close behind, Matty chattering a mile a minute in his ear.
Hours later, tireder than he'd have been after a full scale off world mission, Evan flopped to the couch. "I don't know how you do that every day," he muttered, glancing over at his sister with genuine admiration.
"Well, to be fair, they aren't usually as exuberant as they were today," Elaine admitted. "Jon in particular. He loves you and he's so proud of you Evan – insists we play back every video you send us over and over again; pretends to be 'Uncle Evan on a dangerous mission' all the time. If I didn't love you so much myself, I'd be a little jealous."
"I've missed him," Evan sighed. "Missed all of you," he added, nodding to his brother in law. "Sorry I didn't give you warning before landing on your doorstep."
"Don't be an idiot," Drew shot back.
"I didn't miss that," Lorne muttered, throwing his friend a narrow eyed look.
"How long can you stay?" Elaine asked hopefully.
"A couple of days," Evan straightened a little, regretfully. "I wish it was more but this is kind of bonus leave because they called me in to do a briefing at the Colorado base."
"Still can't tell us what they've got you doing or where?" Drew asked.
"Still classified," Evan agreed. "What about you?"
"They promoted me, put me in charge of two squadrons," Drew said it modestly. "I was going to tell you in the next video."
"That's great," Lorne got up and offered his friend his hand, shaking it vigorously and slapping Drew on the back. "Major Rider ... sounds good."
"It does," Drew agreed. "Now I have to be responsible all the time though."
"Burden of command," Lorne laughed, thinking of his CO as he retook his seat. "You can always find creative ways to still have a little fun."
Elaine looked at her brother thoughtfully. "So tell me Evan ... who is Prudence?"
"Prudence?" Evan asked innocently, surprised she'd waited the whole day to grill him.
"You've mentioned her a few times in your messages, especially the recent ones," Elaine explained. "Who is she?"
"Ah, yes, the lovely Prue," Evan intoned, eyes twinkling. "She might be the one, Sis," he said simply.
"The one," Elaine repeated stupidly. "The one what? What does that mean?"
"You must be slacking off in the romance department there man," Lorne told Drew. Looking back to his sister he turned abruptly serious. "What do you think it means?"
"You met someone?" Elaine asked incredulously. "You actually met someone and you're freely admitting it? Drew, call the Pentagon and ask them what they did with my brother."
"Oh, very funny," Evan shook his head.
"Tell me everything!" Elaine demanded. "What's she like? When can we meet her?"
"Ah ... no idea on the second part," Lorne replied, "and I can't tell you everything because some of its classified but -."
"Wait," Elaine held up a hand. "Your relationship with a civilian is classified?"
"Of course not," Lorne laughed. "But it's a little hard to tell you some things given they took place on a classified base."
"All right, tell me about her then," Elaine requested patiently.
"What do you want to know?" Evan asked, not sure where to start.
"Have you got a photo so I can see what she looks like?" Elaine asked.
"Ah – no," Lorne shrugged. "Running around with a camera isn't something you do on a military basis." It was something he really should have thought of though, given he'd only miss Prue more the longer they were apart. Having a photo might have helped. Although ... "I'll draw you a sketch before I go."
"Okay, then how would you describe her?" Elaine persisted, to the amusement of her husband who was watching his friend closely.
"Five foot two, dark hair, brown eyes, delicate build," Evan grinned. "Beautiful ... in the eye of this beholder anyway. She's stubborn like you wouldn't believe – dedicated too. She's kind of a geek – one of the civilian scientists on base."
"So she's smarter than you then?" Elaine was watching her brother too, enjoying the way his face had softened as soon as he'd begun talking about the woman he'd freely labelled as 'the one'.
"Probably," Evan allowed with a hint of pride for Prue.
"Do you love her?" Elaine asked gently.
Evan met his sister's eyes, a host of emotions swirling there. He said nothing though, still reluctant to put a public label on his feelings for fear that as soon as he did it would all explode in his face. Prue had secrets and he still wasn't sure that some of them weren't going to be the kind that would leave him bleeding and alone. And part of him hadn't let go of the reluctance he'd always felt to commit himself - he could see himself going down that road, which was a big enough change to get used to. It wasn't that Prue was changing him, just unearthing aspects of himself he'd buried a long time ago.
"Will I be needing to 'put you out of your misery' anytime soon?" Drew came at it from a different angle.
"What?" Lorne blinked, and then laughed, remembering Elaine's wedding day with sudden clarity - and what he'd asked Drew to do if Evan ever lost his mind and decided to get married. "Whoa, it's way too early for that buddy!"
"Too early but not out of the realms of possibility?" Drew shook his head at Elaine, silently promising to explain later.
"Maybe," Evan allowed.
"Then she must be pretty amazing," Drew said simply, getting a wordless nod from Lorne in return.
Lorne spent two days with Elaine and Drew, putting aside his personal concerns to just enjoy being with his family.
He followed essentially the same process on a day visit to Nebraska, where Piper and Rob greeted him with the same openness as his sister had. Piper took one look at him and knew something was different - he admitted to Prue's presence in his life and told Piper how he'd almost videoed her a plea for help when he was trying to work out what to do. Piper simply urged him to think about the opportunities instead of the risks - something he did very well from a professional point of view. Piper knew him well enough to understand that a part of him was still worried about the grand scheme of things, the part that had never been able to completely let go of the hurt his Dad's death had brought to his family.
That's when it struck him. Evan was older than his Dad had been when he'd died. He'd gotten further in life that Jonathon Lorne had ... seen things his Dad wouldn't have dreamt possible, flown aircraft that would have had him bursting with pride and bouncing up and down with the desire to fly them himself. Evan hadn't told Prue about his Dad ... or John Jones, or any of the other people he'd lost over his career. They weren't far enough down the relationship track to have that kind of serious discussion - she just knew his family was his Mom, his sister and her family, and the friends he'd made along the way. He hadn't asked about her family either - because he hadn't wanted to open that door for her return questions. Now he wished he had - after she'd said there was nothing for her back on Earth he should have asked her why, instead of getting caught up in his own emotions.
The Daedalus was accommodating enough to grant him one last quick and easy trip, to San Francisco and a visit to his Mom. That one soothed his soul like nothing else could, and reminded him of all the values that grounded him, that made him who he was. If Grace Lorne noticed changes in her son she kept that knowledge to herself, instead asking him whether he'd had time to pursue his painting.
He felt like a naughty school boy when he had to admit that he hadn't. Telling her he'd done a little sketching had just made her shake her head in disappointment.
"You have a talent Evan," she said. "One you should be sharing, but instead you let it stagnate. If you don't use it eventually you'll lose the ability for creation from instinct. Do you really want to have to work at what used to come naturally?"
He didn't so he'd promised to try to find the time for real painting. Clearly that hadn't been good enough because his Mom left him sitting on the couch with a purposeful look on her face and then returned some time later with what she called an artist's care package - everything he'd need to paint a full scale oil painting.
He'd hugged her close and thanked her, even though he wasn't sure when he'd find the time to make use of her gift.
The I.O.A. did call Lorne back to the SGC for another briefing. The only good news on being recalled a little early was that when he got back to the SGC he had the equivalent of mail from Atlantis ... emails delivered during the weekly transmission he'd missed while he'd been visiting Piper and Rob, including one from Prue.
"Evan, hi," she had written.
"I have no idea how to do this ... well, obviously I know how to write an email but I've never had anyone to send a personal message to before ... and you really didn't need to know that, did you?" Evan grinned, almost hearing her tone of voice in his head.
"Work is going slowly. Without you here to drag me out of the lab it's been ... I wouldn't say boring because you know I love my work but ... something is missing. Yes, I know – it's you! I hate to say it but the gloss has gone off the translation project – I feel like the minute you left everything stalled. I can't find what I need, the database isn't being cooperative, and I have to wait two weeks before I can get a mission to 322 on the roster. I tried to talk to Colonel Sheppard about the delay but he's a lot harder to track down than you were."
Evan laughed, picturing Prue attempting to hunt John down to wherever he'd gone to avoid his paperwork.
"I miss you. Don't be offended but I really didn't think it would be like this. Would it be wrong for me to hope you're missing me as much?
I know the next transmission isn't for a week. You'll be on the Daedalus by then but it would be reassuring to get a reply. And if you wanted to say you're lost without me, that would be nice." She'd put a smiley face winking at him so he'd know she was joking.
"Have a safe trip home ... I'll be here ... of course, where else would I be?
Smiling, Evan opened a reply immediately – he'd submit it so it would go back to Atlantis in the next transmission.
"Prue ... nice email.
While I sympathise with you on your project stalling I have to say, the fact that you're missing me enough to admit to it is a nice boost to my ego. Let me boost yours in return and tell you that I miss you too ... even while I was visiting my sister and my Mom. Sorry - that's about as sappy as it gets.
So I'm back at the SGC because the I.O.A. want to grill me some more on the Puddle Jumpers. They didn't like what I told them last time so now I have to go and repeat it. I'll get a few more days off after I'm done with that – not sure what I'm going to do with them yet. The Daedalus will be leaving on schedule next week ... the trip back here was nice but ... I'm not sure I have a place here anymore. I'll be glad to get back to Atlantis.
Stay out of trouble okay?
P.S. If you need Colonel Sheppard to approve something, look for him on the balcony at the top of the South East Tower – but don't tell him I pointed you in that direction.
The next day Lorne sat through a long meeting with the I.O.A. where they picked apart everything he'd told them the first time, just as he'd expected. It was obvious why - they didn't like the only conclusions that could be drawn from his first report, that Earth would not be parading its own fleet of Puddle Jumper's in the near future. They didn't have enough Jumpers or enough people with the natural gene - artificial gene holders could fly the Jumpers, sure, but Lorne's research had shown that they weren't as efficient or as accurate in training, and further that those without prior flight experience just didn't have the skills to make the most of what the Jumper's were capable of.
Eventually, in the face of his quiet competence and resolve, the I.O.A. representatives had to concede defeat, thanking him for his time and finally releasing him from further discussion. Lorne waited until he was outside the door to grin - Colonel Sheppard would be satisfied with the result, especially after Lorne briefed him on all the details.
With another day at the SGC ahead of him, and remembering Daniel's words from his first day, Evan went in search of the SG-1 team member.
"If that mission to P88-013 is still on, count me in," he said as he knocked at Daniel's doorway.
"Evan," Daniel smiled. "All done with the I.O.A?"
"More than," Lorne said blandly. "I could do with some simple work, stretch my legs, clear out the cobwebs."
"I get it," Jackson chuckled. "Strangely I usually leave I.O.A. briefings feeling exactly the same way. As it happens we haven't been to P88-013 yet - we head out in a couple of hours."
"Great, I'll get clearance from General Landry and find myself some gear," Lorne grinned.
Colonel Maybourne greeted them at the gate instead of making them walk to his village. The self-named King Arkan had continued to further his understanding of the Ancient ruins on his adoped planet in the years since SG-1 had first gone there, cooperating with the SGC along the way because it served his purposes too. Teal'c had been called to an important meeting of the Jaffa leaders, leaving SG-1 down to three members. Carter and Mitchell stood behind Daniel, their stance a 'mess with our teammate at your peril' warning that had Maybourne smiling ruefully. When he spotted Evan he grinned.
"Major!" Maybourne greeted Lorne like a long lost friend. "I thought you'd been assigned to the Atlantis project."
Evan didn't question how the ex-Colonel could possibly know that. "Holiday," he said instead, expression bland.
"Well then, maybe you'll be equally interested in what I found," Maybourne smiled, clicking his fingers until one of his hangers-on handed him a cloth wrapped object. "I can't translate this," he told Daniel, holding it out.
Daniel took it, unwrapping it carefully and then letting out a low whistle.
"What is it?" Evan asked.
"The Ancient equivalent of the Rosetta stone," Daniel said reverently, tracing a finger over the carved letters. "Or at least some of it ... there's a section missing. Where did you find this?" he asked Maybourne.
"I can show you," Harry rubbed his hands together, clearly enjoying the prospect of another adventure with SG-1.
Cam looked at Daniel for a moment, getting an imperceptible nod in return. "Right - lead the way."
Maybourne led them through the trees until he reached a stone marker much like the ones Evan had seen on M4R-322. "Here," Harry gestured to the area in front of the stone.
Daniel looked around, his eyes narrowed.
"What are you thinking?" Sam asked in a low tone.
"That they probably divided this deliberately," Daniel replied, looking down at the tablet still in his possession.
"And buried the other half somewhere else," Carter concluded.
"In all likelihood yes," Daniel agreed. "The obvious place would be the columns."
"So we split up," Cam decided. "Sam and I will search here with Maybourne. You and Lorne go search the columns."
Daniel nodded, looking over to Evan. "Are you up for a walk?"
"Sure, of course," Lorne agreed. "Lead the way Doctor."
"I've seen these before." Hanging by a rope over a dark hole. Prue, lying still and pale. That instance of fear when he'd thought he was too late. The images from M4R-322 assaulted Lorne's mind and he ruthlessly pushed them away.
"As I recall, you have been here before," Daniel said with exaggerated patience.
"Not here," Lorne countered, looking around. "It wasn't here. Back in Pegasus. Ancient ruins from some kind of education facility - there were lots of these columns surrounding it."
"Did they all have carvings like this?" Daniel touched a hand to the column closest to him.
"Yeah," Evan frowned. "Can you read these?"
"Yes, although the different dialects suggest they were carved over many hundreds of years," Daniel replied, pushing up his glasses in that way of his. "They're prophesies Evan. Like the one that had Maybourne luring us here the first time."
"What do they say?" Lorne asked, walking closer to one column with narrowed eyes. He couldn't have said why but there was something about it that both drew him nearer and repulsed him at the same time. He wanted to know what was on it but from a safe distance. "Don't be ridiculous Evan," he told himself. "It's a piece of rock, not a bomb!"
"The research teams created a time line," Daniel said, moving to stand beside Lorne's shoulder so he could get a closer look. "This is one of the columns set in the future ... an event that hasn't happened yet," he said distractedly, translating as he read. "Oh," the archaeologist tensed abruptly.
"What?" Evan demanded, not liking the other man's tone. "What does it say?"
"It's about you actually," Daniel's words had Evan tensing too.
"Sorry?" He glanced at his companion, frowning in confusion. "Me? How could you possibly know that?"
"Remember the first time we were here?" Daniel queried, eyes still trained on the words carved by an unknown person.
"I try not to!" Lorne shot back.
"Maybourne's prophesy," Daniel reminded him. "How did it go?" His eyes went distant as he thought for a moment. "Ah ... on the fourth moon of the fifty-fourth cycle one from a distant world will come and with Ludo's Pyramid claim the power of the Ancestors. In so doing will the fate of galaxies be forged." His eyes sharpened as he looked at Lorne. "Does that sound familiar?"
"Not really," Evan admitted. "I wasn't exactly paying attention at the time. I remember the headache though - that was a bitch."
"Since the pyramid revealed that you have the gene ... 'the power of the Ancestors' ... that makes you the one from a distant world," Daniel explained.
"I'm not forging fates anywhere Daniel," Lorne pointed out with a half laugh. "How accurate are these things anyway?"
"So far, very," Daniel said, the interest evident in his expression. "All the ones we've dated back have in essence 'come true'," he air quoted the last two words. "Admittedly record keeping prior to Harry taking over as King left much to be desired but since he was using what's carved here to convince his subjects he had some kind of psychic power I'd say we can take the later predicted events occurring as given."
"Then I'm not this 'one from a distant world'," Lorne insisted, more amused than anything.
"Ah, I think you are," Daniel countered, looking at Evan carefully. "Don't you want to know what this one says?"
"Do I?" Lorne's eyes narrowed as he turned the question back on the archaeologist.
"No, but I think you should," Daniel replied. Turning back to the column he translated again as he read. "In the last moons of the fifty fifth cycle the one from a distant world will return and his arrival shall herald the beginning of the end for the enlightened. Only with the supreme sacrifice will right prevail."
"What the hell does that mean?" Lorne demanded, the icy feeling inside telling him it wasn't good.
"With these things there's always an element of interpretation," Daniel explained earnestly. "I'd guess that the enlightened are ascended Ancients. The beginning of the end seems pretty self explanatory."
"And the supreme sacrifice?"
"Ah ... supreme, ultimate, I think they mean the same thing in this context," Daniel watched Lorne draw the obvious conclusion.
"Death?" Evan said incredulously. "You're saying that somehow my dying is going to save the Ancients?"
"The fate of galaxies," Daniel said quietly.
"I'm not buying it," Lorne said decisively, "because it doesn't make any sense! Why would the Ancients need me to save them? Aren't they all powerful or something?"
"That's a common misconception," Daniel explained. "In actual fact their existence is restricted in ways we can't understand. Potentially they have the capability to do whatever they can conceive but their rules impose harsh penalties for any who attempt to exercise that in any corporeally meaningful way."
"Okay, but that doesn't immediately imply that one of us could help them," Evan insisted, "even if we could prove that column is talking about me. Given it was carved thousands of years before I was born I'm going to go with highly unlikely on that one!"
"There's a way to prove it," Daniel offered in a low tone.
"What?" Evan blinked. "How?"
"There's one last line here," Daniel gestured to the bottom of the column and read. "When the one endures the test, then will his identity be announced to all."
"And what test would that be exactly?" Evan queried with exaggerated patience.
"I think you put your hands on the column," Daniel looking at the stone pillar, eyes narrowed behind his glasses. "If it's referring to you, something will happen. If nothing happens then you're in the clear."
"It's what the 'something' is that concerns me Daniel," Lorne said pointedly.
"Usually with the Ancient technology the first indicator is that it lights up right?" Daniel queried, getting a nod of confirmation in return. "There's been no evidence of any energy sources in all our previous visits – from what we can tell these columns are simply local rock – they look fairly harmless to me. So ... you keep your mind completely blank and touch it."
"If that column really is some kind of tester and it's just looking for the gene then anyone could be 'the one'," Lorne pointed out the obvious flaw in that reasoning.
"True," Daniel frowned. "We need someone else with the gene to try it first."
"Forget it," Lorne laughed, knowing immediately who Daniel was thinking of. "General O'Neill isn't going to come all the way from the Pentagon just to put his hand on a piece of rock!"
"You'd be surprised," Daniel returned. Activating his radio he contacted Colonel Mitchell and explained what they needed. Cam agreed that he and Sam would head back to the SGC to get it organised.
Lorne could hardly credit it, but a mere hour later General O'Neill himself was striding through the trees. Stopping with hands resting on a P-90, he looked comfortable in his BDUs and cap.
"Jack," Daniel said blandly.
"Daniel," Jack replied just as blandly. Turning to look at Lorne he smirked. "We're gonna have to stop sending you here if you keep making trouble Major."
"Don't worry Sir," Lorne replied, "I have no intention of ever coming back here again. Not voluntarily anyway."
"Right, so what have you got for me?" Jack looked around the ruins with interest.
"Not much actually," Daniel grinned, clearly happy to see his former CO. "In fact, as soon as you put your hand on the column in front of Lorne, you can go home again."
"Is that right?" Jack cocked a brow at his friend. "Just touch that there column and then go home, you say?" His amusement obvious, he turned to Lorne. "What isn't he telling me Major?"
"We think it's some kind of test Sir," Evan explained reluctantly. "Daniel thinks some of what's on there is talking about me and that the reaction when we each touch the column will prove it."
"So if I pass this test then you're in the clear, if not then Daniel's right?" Jack summarised. He turned a narrow eyed frown at his friend. "And what am I to expect will happen when I put my hand ... wherever it is I'm supposed to put my hand?"
"Nothing," Daniel insisted. "If the test is simply identifying the subject of the prophesy then it should simply light up when the right person touches it."
"Like Excalibur," Jack smirked. "Sweet!" Strolling forward he motioned Lorne out of the way and then looked at the column. "Any particular spot or do I just -"
"Just touch the damn column Jack," Daniel broke in impatiently.
Jack exchanged an amused look with Lorne before reaching out a hand and brushing his fingers lightly on the stone. When nothing happened he put his entire palm on the column, meeting Daniel's eyes when it remained as it was. "Your turn," he told Lorne.
"Right," Evan moved back into the hot seat, so to speak. "Can I go on record as saying I think this is a bad idea?" he muttered, eyeing the stone with distrust.
"You can, as long as you stop stalling and touch the darn thing," Jack replied.
"Okay," Lorne paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts and forcing them to the back of his mind. When he felt calm enough he reached out a hand and touched the column.
And all hell broke loose.
From what Daniel told him later, an invisible force punched out from the stone and slammed into Lorne's chest, throwing him a full body length clear of where he'd been standing.
For Evan it was much more than that. As soon as his hand touched stone his mind was inundated with noise – not the gentle undertones of static he experienced on Atlantis. No, this was the opposite – not gentle fingers caressing but sharp nails clawing and stabbing inside his head. His heart was pounding and a fire crawled under his skin, prickly and insidious, like a legion of fire ants walking all over him. It was so bad that he never noticed that he'd gone from standing upright to being stretched out on the ground.
He didn't hear General O'Neill radioing the SGC with a medical emergency, or Daniel dropping to his side and calling his name urgently. He couldn't hear the wind in the trees or the dirt shifting under Daniel's boots ... or his own voice, yelling himself hoarse in agony. He couldn't feel himself writhing on the ground, unable to keep still even when Daniel and the General tried to restrain him.
It was pain at a cellular level and it went on and on and on ... until merciful oblivion came to take his awareness away.
Chapter 24: Unnamed, unseen.
Lorne dreamt. Nightmares where someone or something tried to rip him apart from the inside ... change who he was at the fundamental level.
Surrounded by formless shadows and swirls of shifting light, he fought. They wanted to take something from him but he couldn't let them, holding on grimly to a core of certainty he didn't know he had, a core that was fuelled by his love for his country, his family, for Prue ... yeah, when getting slammed by something he couldn't even see, labelling his feelings was suddenly pretty damn easy. That core was supported by his respect for the people who'd influenced his direction the most – General O'Neill, Colonel Sheppard, Doctor Weir and others, down the years of his career.
It went on for days ... weeks ... years – he couldn't really tell. He had no sense of time or location ... he was cut off from any kind of appreciation of himself as a physical being, relying on others to look after him physically while he battled to look after his mental self. He ran the statistics to himself repeatedly, like a mantra that would centre and calm him. "You're Major Evan Lorne. Son of Grace and Jonathon Lorne. You work for Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard on Atlantis. Resident of the Pegasus Galaxy."
The more whatever attacked him tried to pull that core from him, the tighter he held on. It became a tug of war in his head they weren't going to win – he'd hold on until it killed him rather than let go of even one small part of what made him who he was.
And then abruptly it stopped and his mental self collided forcefully with the reality of his physical presence.
Everything felt like it slammed to a half after constant motion. Lorne's eyes snapped open and were immediately assaulted by light that stabbed into his pupils, blinding him. Blinking furiously he put hands over his ears to block out the sounds – blips, beeps, gurgles, humming, rustling, buzzing white noise ... the sound of his own heart beating. All of it was overwhelming ... he had to ... he had to get away.
"Evan!" Daniel Jackson jumped up from the chair beside the door, grabbing the call button and pressing it.
Lurching up in bed, Lorne ripped at the leads connected to him, heart pounding, breathing rapid and shallow. He squinted into the light, putting a hand over his eyes with a grimace.
Perceptive to his companion's plight, Daniel hurried to dim the lights, shooting a look at Evan to check for an impact.
"Noise," Lorne got out, still wincing.
Daniel frowned, glancing around the room assessingly. Walking to the wall he quickly switched off the equipment. Not done, he gathered up noise sources – bedside clock, lamp, anything else both electric and portable – and dumped them outside the door, closing it gently.
Outside stimuli down to a level he could just handle, Lorne relaxed a little, turning his attention to Daniel, eyes intensely blue in a face that was devoid of warm colour. For a second his brain couldn't compute the presence of the other man, but then, with a rush, it all came back to him. "Daniel?" Frowning, Evan looked around, for the first time thinking about where he actually was.
"You're at the SGC," Daniel confirmed, voice lowered.
Lorne flopped back down on the bed, eyes trained on the ceiling. "I told you it was a bad idea," he muttered, the moments before he'd touched that column suddenly vividly clear. He felt like he'd battled an army singlehandedly for days but already the minutiae of details was slipping away.
"You did,' Daniel agreed, his tone apologetic. "I'm really sorry Evan."
"What?" Lorne looked at the other man, confused. "It's not your fault I got something we didn't bargain for."
"Maybe not, but I still feel responsible," Daniel shook his head. "Especially when we didn't think you'd make it."
Lorne frowned. They'd thought he wasn't going to make it? "Wh -," The door opened again with a burst of noise that had him slamming his hands over his ears again.
Daniel rushed forward, stopping General Landry and Doctor Lam just inside the door. "He needs quiet," Daniel explained in a lowered tone.
Nodding, Caroline moved to the bed, frowning at the leads dangling uselessly over the side. "You know, we put these things on you for a reason Major," she admonished, her volume low enough for Evan to lower his hands.
"Ah," Lorne glanced around at the 'dead' machines surrounding him with a grimace. "Sorry – they were ... loud."
"So you're experiencing some light and noise sensitivity," Lam confirmed. "We can give you something to dull the effect until it wears off. Anything else I should know about Major?" she asked, her voice already settling into a volume he could live with. "How are you feeling, aside from the problems with light and sound?"
"Fine," the one word response was out of his mouth automatically, even though clearly he wasn't fine.
"You've been unconscious for over a week Major," Lam revealed pointedly. "I'm gonna need a little more than just 'fine'."
"A week?" Evan's eyes shot to Daniel's and he got a nod of confirmation. "The Daedalus?"
"Left on schedule three days ago," General Landry replied. "Atlantis is aware of your situation."
"Ah, right ... okay," Lorne said distractedly, dismayed at the news that his ride home had left without him. Instead of eighteen days to get back to Atlantis he was now looking at four times that. It'd be months before he got back and that fact staggered him so much that he didn't notice the concerned looks being exchanged between the General and his daughter.
"Are you in any other pain Major?" Caroline continued with her assessment, his chart in hand as she scribbled notes.
Evan wondered what it meant when the General said Atlantis was aware of his situation. Had they been told everything or just that he wasn't fit to return? He needed to speak to Colonel Sheppard himself ... needed to find out if Prue was –
"Major Lorne," Doctor Lam had been talking in quiet tones – her sudden increase in volume had Evan flinching, his attention back in the room.
"Sorry?" he looked at her, flushing a little when he realised she'd asked the question more than once and that Daniel and General Landry were watching him with varying degrees of concern.
"I asked if you were in any other pain Major?" Doctor Lam repeated, quiet again.
"No," Evan shifted in the bed, trying to get comfortable. "I feel like a fleet of tanks rolled over me and then backed up just to make sure I was sufficiently flattened," he quipped. "What happened?"
"You don't know?" Lam frowned.
"All I know is I put my hand on that column and something grabbed me," Lorne admitted. "I can tell you what it felt like but that's it."
"That's good. I'll get you something to dull the edges and then you can do just that," Caroline put a hand on his arm reassuringly. "I'll be back in a few minutes Major."
Lorne nodded, settling back a little and closing his eyes. He not only felt flattened, he felt tired as well, enough that he would have forgotten he was in the presence of General Landry and fallen asleep if Daniel hadn't cleared his throat, startling Lorne awake.
"Jack sends his apologies," Daniel offered. "He stayed as long as he could but was called back to the Pentagon a few days ago."
Nodding, Evan shrugged. "I wouldn't have expected the General to stay even that long," he admitted.
"He'd never say this himself," Daniel leaned in closer so that General Landry wouldn't hear, "but I think you're his favourite Major."
Evan chuckled, the action sending pain shooting through his head. "God, don't make me laugh," he protested, still grinning faintly.
"Are you messing with my patient Doctor Jackson?" Caroline returned, disapproving expression firmly in place.
"That depends on your definition," Daniel shared a conspiratorial look with Lorne.
"Right," Lam turned back to Evan, "let's see how you do after this. Thankfully you didn't pull this one out," she added, administering the contents of the syringe she'd brought into his IV.
It wasn't instantaneous but pretty close to it. The noise and the light levels were the same but it was like he now had a bubble surrounding him, absorbing some of the input before it could get to him.
"Better?" Lam asked, watching him closely.
"Yeah," Lorne's brow rose. "What was in that Doc?"
"Neural inhibitors," Caroline explained. "We've just toned down the feedback you're getting, which will allow us to determine if there's any underlying cause for your current sensitivity."
"And if there isn't?" Lorne asked.
"Then the effect wears off and you get to go home Major," Lam said with a smile. "Otherwise you might be a resident here a little longer than you were planning."
"So tell us Major, what exactly happened, from your perspective?" General Landry began.
"Like I said Sir, something grabbed me," Evan replied. "Felt like it was trying to get at me from the inside out. I don't know what it was but I do know that it wanted me to let go of something and I guess I must have said no – it wasn't happy about that."
"How did you break free?" Landry queried.
"No idea Sir," Lorne admitted. "I have no recollection of anything I did that would have helped."
"But you think it was an actual entity of some kind," Daniel concluded. "Something real?"
"I hate to say it but yeah, I do," Evan agreed.
"Perhaps Doctor Lam can tell you what we found while monitoring you Major," General Landry suggested.
"Of course. When Doctor Jackson and General O'Neill brought you back here it was clear that you were in a great deal of physical pain," Doctor Lam began. "In fact, until a few moments ago you continued to display outward signs of pain, putting your body under enormous stress. We couldn't find an immediate cause, but functional MRI scans revealed a much higher level of activity in the neocortex, primary somatosensory cortex, and through the thalamus into the parietal lobe."
"What does all that mean Doc?" Lorne asked, frowning.
"The thalamus is a central relay for things like pain," Caroline explained. "The level of activity you exhibited confirms that as far as your body, and in particular your brain was concerned, what you were feeling was real pain."
"And those other areas?" Lorne continued.
"The somatosensory system as a whole allows you to detect and interpret a wide range of sensory inputs – your levels were consistent with someone receiving large amounts of stimuli," Caroline said. "Finally, the neocortex is involved in higher functions. In your case I believe the ones of most relevance are sensory perception and spatial reasoning."
"So you're saying as far as the brain scans you took are concerned, I perceived whatever the source of this pain was and my body was reacting to that?" Evan deduced.
"Exactly," Lam said approvingly. "Your brain activity convinced me there was a real source of pain, so we conducted a number of tests and when they showed nothing we conducted them again. Because we did that – created a baseline for comparison – I was able to determine the cause of the pain, if not the source."
"So, what was causing it?" Lorne asked, a little impatient to get the punch line even though he was already pretty sure he wouldn't like it.
"I ran some DNA related blood tests looking for hereditary deceases that might manifest in a manner similar to your symptoms," Doctor Lam continued. "When I ran them a second time I didn't get any positive results but we noticed something very interesting. I wouldn't go so far as to say something was trying to rewrite your DNA Major, but there was clear evidence of DNA level trauma."
"So my DNA has been affected?" Lorne looked from Lam to General Landry and back again, at the back of his mind recalling Colonel Sheppard's ordeal with the retrovirus. This didn't sound good.
"Not exactly, and from what I can tell, not permanently," Caroline said reassuringly. "There were signs that certain areas of your DNA were under attack but your body's defences kicked in and fought back."
"Certain areas?" Lorne commented, eyes narrowed at her emphasis on those two words.
"Yes," Doctor Lam exchanged a look with her father before finishing it. "An area we know well because of the work of Doctor Beckett."
"The ATA gene?" Evan's brows rose sharply. "Something was attacking my ATA gene? What would have happened if it had succeeded?"
"I can't be one hundred percent sure but at a guess I'd say you'd no longer be able to use your gene Major," Caroline said, her expression serious.
"Ah, okay," Lorne blinked ... that bothered him a lot more than he'd admit to! Looking past Caroline to where Daniel stood, he frowned. "That's what the Ancient's call a test?" he asked the archaeologist. "Trying to switch off the ATA gene?"
"We don't know," Daniel admitted. "Look, SG-1 returned to the columns after Jack and I got you back here, when it looked like the problem wasn't going to have a quick solution. We checked the records from all the SG teams Maybourne has let onto the planet since we first found them too. I couldn't find any further reference to testing the subjects of the prophesies, nor any other mention of this 'one from a distant planet' – the two we know about seem to be all there is."
"And we're sure those columns were all carved by the Ancients as we know them?" Lorne queried.
"Ah ...," Daniel frowned. "I guess we were assuming that, but now that you ask the question ... what are you thinking Evan?"
"That not every ascended being lives by the same standard as the ones we've had direct dealing with, including you," Lorne replied. "We assumed they did because we assumed there was no way to avoid punishment by the rest of the group. Maybe that's not true. Maybe some bored ascended ancient put that note on the stone to lure us in, like baiting an ant trap with honey."
"We're the ants, right?" Daniel murmured, amused despite the subject matter.
"Ants, bees, whatever analogy you're comfortable with," Evan confirmed blandly.
"We can't confirm it of course, but it's something to look into," Daniel shrugged. "You mentioned that other location in the Pegasus galaxy with similar structures – I'd recommend when you get back sending enough people there to get all the stones documented. I can assist with translation if it's too much for your Doctor Darnell."
"I'll talk to Doctor Weir," Lorne promised. Turning hopeful eyes to Doctor Lam he let his brow rise. "So, when can I get out of here Doctor?"
Caroline rolled her eyes and then clicked her fingers beside his ear, watching dispassionately while Evan flinched, swallowing back a groan of pain. "When the slightest noise doesn't result in the urge to vomit Major," she smiled to take the sting off. "We'll keep this room isolated and the levels of light and noise controlled until some of the sensitivity wears off. As soon as I'm convinced there's no underlying cause, and that you won't be collapsing from neural overload Major, you'll be free to return to Atlantis."
General Landry watched the younger officer's shoulders drop at the mention of his base. "You'll be gating back Major," he announced. "Colonel Sheppard convinced me he couldn't possibly cope for more than a month without his second in command."
"That's ...," Lorne stopped, the relief almost overwhelming. "That's very generous General. Thank you," he said gratefully.
"Sounds like you've earned it Major," Landry said simply. "I'll expect you to keep us updated on anything you find through investigating this matter back in the Pegasus galaxy."
"Of course Sir," Lorne agreed.
Nodding, General Landry nodded. "As you were Major," he said. Turning to his daughter he smiled slightly. "Doctor," he acknowledged.
"General," she replied in kind.
"Doctor Jackson," he stopped at the door. "Maybe you should go and let General O'Neill know that our Major here is back with the land of the living."
"I'll do that General," Daniel agreed.
"Get some rest Major," Lam advised, before following her father out the door, leaving Lorne alone with Daniel.
"Don't let it bother you," Daniel said lightly.
"What, having some kind of intergalactic death note hanging over my head?" Lorne quipped. "Why would that bother me?" Daniel chuckled even as Lorne sighed, serious again. "There'll be some kind of logical explanation for what happened Daniel," he insisted grimly.
"I hope so," Daniel agreed quietly.
Lorne settled back in the bed once he was alone, his mind racing. Prophesies that apparently identified him personally. Mention of ascended Ancients. An attack at the genetic level. More pain than he'd ever experienced before and hoped never to experience again. Something trying to wipe out his ATA gene. What the hell?
The soft knock on his door was a welcome interruption from the chaos of questions in his mind, so Lorne called out a 'Come in', trying not to wince as the sound of his own voice reverberated in his head.
"Sir?" Laura Cadman peered around the partly open door uncertainly.
"Lieutenant," Evan frowned. "Shouldn't you be on the Daedalus?"
"Temporary assignment with SG-11 Sir," Laura explained. "I'll be back on the Daedalus next trip." Approaching the bed, she looked at Evan carefully. "It's good to see you awake Sir."
"It's good to be awake," Lorne returned, 'especially given the alternative', he added internally.
"I was on duty when they brought you back from oh one three," Laura's usual lively facade was absent and that fact had Lorne looking at her a little closer.
"I'm guessing, judging from your expression Lieutenant, that it was pretty disturbing," Evan said casually.
"Disturbing enough that you should be taking it a lot more seriously!" Laura exclaimed. "Sir," she added, realising quickly that her tone and lack of address could be seen as insubordination.
"I'm fine now," Evan said. He hesitated for a moment but the chance to find out anything he could about Atlantis was too great to pass up. "Can you tell me anything about what's happening back in the city Lieutenant?"
A small smiled played over Laura's face and Lorne did his best to ignore it. While Cadman hadn't been around Atlantis since he and Prue managed to get their acts heading in the same direction, he had no doubt she knew just the same.
"There's some kind of big project that's causing Carson no end of stress," Laura offered. "Apart from that it's been pretty quiet."
"Anything else?" Lorne looked at her pointedly, silently asking her to cut him some slack.
"Atlantis dialled in a few days early to get a status report on your condition Sir," Laura took pity on him, teasing under the current circumstances not having its usual appeal. "I don't know whether anyone requested permission to gate in but I did hear that General Landry told Colonel Sheppard up front that he'd only approve a gate trip if there was sufficient justification. I guess they couldn't do that so you're stuck with just me visiting, Sir."
"Lucky me," Lorne half smiled when she looked put upon by his teasing.
"You have emails from everyone on your team, plus Colonel Sheppard, Doctor Weir, and a few others. I got quite a few too, from people asking me to tell you they're praying for you Sir." Laura grinned teasingly. "There are four or five from Prue for you – she must have written one every day since the SGC first dialled in."
"Could you ...?" Lorne trailed off, loathe to ask for something so personal.
"Can I organise something so you can read them?" Laura suggested. "Of course Sir. In fact I'll go do that now – let you get some sleep."
"Thank you Lieutenant," Lorne said gratefully.
"You're welcome Sir," Laura walked away from the bed, stopping with her hand on the door. "I'm really glad you pulled through Sir," she said quietly before taking her leave.
I don't know what to do. General Landry told us that you'd been hurt in an incident off world ... that you were in some kind of pain induced coma. They said you might not make it but I know that can't be true. You need to wake up and prove them wrong, right now!
You're not going to be reading this – I don't know what I'm doing here. Just ... please, I need you to get better.
Evan frowned after reading Prue's first email. He couldn't tell who'd given her the news or how she'd taken it, aside from the denial and worry evident in her words. Clicking on the next message, he continued reading.
It's night time in the city and I'm sitting on our balcony ... I know, it's not really ours but it should be. When you get better maybe we could put up a plaque or something.
God, listen to me ... a plaque? You're trapped in a painful hell and I'm talking about plaques! Damn - could I be any lamer?"
Evan smiled at her use of the word 'damn'. He was rubbing off on Prue's language – no mean feat given she was a linguist.
"I'm sorry ... I know you can't read these but ... I need some kind of connection to you and this is all I have.
Don't leave me, okay ...
Guilt and sadness warred for dominance as he finished the second message. This was exactly the kind of situation he'd always tried to avoid – being the cause of days and days of emotional upheaval as someone waited to hear if he was going to be okay. And yet, here he was, doing exactly that to Prue. That it wasn't his fault hardly mattered. With a sigh, he clicked on the third message.
I was hoping to hear something positive today but the gate remains silent ... Colonel Sheppard promised we'd dial in tomorrow instead of waiting the full week so we could find out if you've recovered. I cling to the hope that you have.
I've prayed and begged and pleaded for your freedom from where you are right now ... I wish there was more I could do.
But there is nothing else.
I wish I could ... I'm sorry.
What had she wished? Lorne frowned. Would she have come to Earth, if General Landry hadn't put the 'special circumstances' clause on it? He'd like to think that she would ... hell, he wished that Prue had argued, rightly so, that she was a special circumstance in her own right! He'd been unaware of anything during those days but still, something in him would have known she was there. And she'd be here now. Looking at his screen and the one unread message left, Lorne clicked and then read.
We're dialling in within the hour so I need to get this done quickly. When we do, if they tell me you haven't woken up ... or God ... NO! I won't think like that! We'll dial in and they'll tell us you're okay – I know it. Just as I know you're too important not to make it through this. We need you ... but more than that, I need you. I really can't do what I'm supposed to do without you.
That's why I know you'll come back to me.
That's why I'm here ... waiting.
Slowly closing the laptop, Lorne settled back in the bed, putting his palms over his eyes and pressing until that burning feeling subsided. He felt flattened all over again by what Prue had chosen to write ... he just wanted to see her, reassure both of them that it was going to be okay now. Instead he was stuck in the infirmary for the foreseeable future, struggling with a world that was just too bright and too loud.
There were other messages for him to read but Evan wasn't up to reading them right then. Tiredly, he turned over and buried his face in the pillow, falling quickly but uneasily to sleep.
A few days later Lorne was still convalescing in the infirmary. He'd improved, but not enough – still had flashes of stabbing pain in his head if a loud noise caught him by surprise, still flinched when Doctor Lam insisted on checking his pupil responses by shining her pen light directly into his eyes. That's why he'd had to practically beg Caroline to be where he was right then ... in the control room as the Stargate was sent into motion by an incoming wormhole.
Atlantis was dialling in for a regular check in.
Lorne had been given permission to speak to Colonel Sheppard while they were transmitting their weekly status reports. As he watched the more metallic feeling gate spin and lock in chevrons, Evan admitted to himself that he was a little nervous. On the one hand he craved contact with 'home' – he wanted to make sure for himself that everything had been moving along smoothly in his absence. None of the messages he'd received had contained details so he still wasn't sure exactly what Sheppard had been told about his experience on P88-013 – hadn't wanted to ask in front of General Landry and since then Daniel and the rest of SG-1 had been busy continuing delivery of the plague vaccine to the most vulnerable planets.
"Wormhole is established," Walter announced as the plume of water surged from the circle. "Atlantis, this is the SGC. We're reading you five by five."
"Acknowledged. Beginning transmission." Lorne smiled, hearing Chuck's voice at the controls, as usual. The man must pull double shifts for the amount of time he spent as the technician in charge in the control room. Kind of like Walter Harriman, now that Evan thought about it. Maybe there was more to being the one to dial the gate than he'd previously considered.
"We're received data now," Walter confirmed. "I have General Landry and Major Lorne here."
"Major!" It was Colonel Sheppard's voice now – Lorne's smile grew even as he acknowledged the reaction.
"Sir," he returned blandly.
"Not that I'm not happy to hear from you Major," John began," but what the hell happened? Last week they had you at death's door and were telling us there was nothing they could do."
"Oh," Lorne's eyes shot to General Landry, startled that the message delivered had been that extreme. "I ah ... I woke up Sir."
"You woke up," Sheppard repeated slowly. "Right. I'm sure there's a hell of a story there you'll be telling us when you get back. When is that precisely? Because I have to tell you, the paperwork's building up here."
"When Major Lorne is cleared by our infirmary he'll be gating back to Atlantis Colonel," General Landry revealed. "We wouldn't want that paperwork situation to get out of hand, would we?"
"Ah, no Sir, we wouldn't," John replied.
"Is there anything of importance beyond what's in the written reports?" Landry asked.
"No Sir," Sheppard sounded like he was shrugging. "The most interesting thing is that experiment of Doctor Beckett's. So far it's proceeding according to plan. Other than that it's been a quiet week Sir."
"Sometimes they're the best kind Colonel," Landry drawled. "I'll leave you to brief Major Lorne on anything he might need to know. Doctor Lam is hopeful we'll be able to return him before the next scheduled check in."
"Thank you Sir," John paused, and then his voice took on a chattier edge as he addressed his second in command. "So, how are you really feeling Major?"
"Good enough to return now Sir – if they'd let me," Evan replied as soon as it was just him and the technicians in the control room.
"Well I'm sure there's a reason for that Major, one Doctor Lam will no doubt inform Carson of," John smirked. "So don't expect to get off scot-free here either."
"Ah, no Sir," Lorne sighed. "Did they really tell you I was at death's door Sir?"
"Pretty much," John agreed. "Something about excruciating pain with no cause placing too much stress on your heart – Carson looked worried enough with the medical mumbo jumbo that we all knew it was pretty serious."
"I'm sorry Sir," Lorne said, his tone low.
"From all accounts you did nothing wrong Major," John chuckled, "although McKay will be reminding you about his "don't touch anything, even if it looks harmless" policy when you get back."
"I'm that keen to get back Sir that I think I'm looking forward to it," Evan glanced around the control room, noting that everyone was going about their business without paying him undue attention. "Anything to report on that favour I asked you for before I left Sir?" he asked evasively. He wasn't doing anything wrong, even by SGC standards, in having a relationship with Prue but that didn't mean he wanted to put his personal life up as a topic for discussion inside the mountain.
"We have a few people here who are very relieved to hear your voice Major," Sheppard kept it vague. Lorne was grateful for that – he'd like nothing better than to talk to Prue personally but in the middle of both their respective control rooms was hardly the appropriate setting. It was enough that she was there to here him awake and well.
"Everyone was worried," Sheppard continued, "but we handled it – nothing to concern yourself with. You just concentrate on getting over the line with the doctors so you can come back and see for yourself."
"Thank you Sir," Lorne said gratefully. "I will."
"Good ... then we'll see you in a few days Major. Atlantis out."
Lorne looked to Walter and nodded, the technician cutting their radio signal in tune with Atlantis cutting theirs. The wormhole disappeared, leaving an empty circle and a Major even more determined to do whatever it took to return home.
'Sensory sensitivity' wasn't the kind of injury where Evan could exercise or do physical therapy to bring along his recovery. What did occur to him though was that he didn't have to actually be recovered – he just had to convince Doctor Lam that he was. It all came down to his continuing issues with noise and light. Lam had him on a reduced dose of neural inhibitors and in general he was doing much better but loud noises and bright lights still packed enough punch to send him reeling. Doctor Lam was looking for causes and would continue to do so unless he could stop being so sensitive.
In the end the solution he came up with was simple – conditioning. Every day he spent hours in his quarters subjecting himself to progressively louder music, lights heading all the way up to full. In between times he went looking for things that would challenge his senses ... it all still had him wanting to flinch or puke in equal proportions but after three days he was confident that none of his reaction would show. He had it under control – and since he was confident that Carson would be equally as capable of helping fix the problem, Lorne didn't feel that it was wrong. He just wanted to go home.
When Doctor Lam tested him at his request she was forced to agree. "You've made a vast improvement Major – I think you'll be able to handle the additional challenges a city as busy as Atlantis will throw at you," she said. "I'd still like to keep you on the inhibitors for a while longer – I'll transfer your case to Doctor Beckett to manage that aspect."
"Thanks Doc," Lorne said easily, levering himself off the examination table. "I appreciate your looking after me the past couple of weeks."
"You're welcome," Caroline smiled. "Yours was the most interesting case to come through here in a long while. I'd feel better if we knew what put your DNA under attack like that – I hate sending you back without an answer."
"I'm just glad I'm well enough to go back," Lorne shrugged. "I'll get someone to look into the rest of it back there – who knows, maybe we will find that answer down the track."
"Maybe," Lam agreed, patting his shoulder fondly before taking her leave.
"Yes!" Evan grinned, suddenly excited. Tomorrow he was going home.
Chapter 25: Michael Who?
It would have been nice if Lorne's return to Atlantis could have been dignified. Instead he stepped through the wormhole and was immediately hit with a burst of mental static from the city, more than he'd been prepared for. Worse than any level of noise or light the SGC could have produced, it sent Evan crashing to the Gateroom floor, clutching his head and groaning in agony. He was unable to form a coherent enough thought to beg for quiet, unaware of what was going on or who might be there surrounding him. The city, sensitive to his pain, granted him blessed mental silence, but it was too late to stop him for losing his grip on consciousness.
This time his return to wakefulness was a gradual process instead of an intense rush. He noticed some things while still sleeping ... mostly that it was really quiet and still, like everyone was sleeping along with him ... and that someone holding his hand.
"Prue?" Blinking a few times Evan eventually got his eyes to stay open.
The quite was explained when he discovered that he was in one of the private room in the infirmary - which made sense given his reaction to being back. Prue had fallen asleep with her head down on the bed beside him, clutching his hand in both of hers, her cheek resting on his arm. Glancing around, Lorne noticed the room was on low light. Was it night time? Had he been unconscious for that long?
Directing his attention back to Prue he had to smile. She looked tired and a few strands of hair had escaped her usually tidy style, lying dark across her pale cheek. But to him she was ... perfection. It was a fanciful thought – a heart leaping just at the sight of another person – but that's how he felt. He'd missed her but only then realised how much.
"Prue," he said again, lightly stroking the hair back from her cheek. "Hey ... wake up okay."
Prue's eyelids fluttered and then opened, her eyes connecting with his. "Evan!" Instantly she was up and launching herself against his chest. "You're awake," she murmured, hugging him tightly. "Oh God, I thought ... I -," she buried her head against his neck, breath hitching.
"Hey, it's all right. I'm okay," Evan reassured her, holding her close.
Instead of reassuring her, his words had her lurching back with a glare. "You collapsed on the Gateroom floor!" she said accusingly. "After you told everyone at the SGC that you were well enough to come back! How is that okay Evan?"
"Ah, listen, it's not as bad as it looks, okay," Lorne tried to explain. "I guess the city was a little overwhelming to begin with but I really am okay now." It was true too – he realised with sudden clarity that his head wasn't sore anymore. He could sense the city – just a low hum of welcome now, hear the usual noises associated with living in a place that floated on the ocean and was full of machinery. The first moments of his return had been harsh but worth it because for the first time in two weeks he didn't feel like he had to pretend to be unaffected.
"Really?" Prue's accusing glare turned hopeful but still faintly suspicious. "You really feel better?"
"Yeah," Evan smiled. "I'd feel better yet if you came back over here and kissed me hello."
With a laugh she did just that, placing her hands against his cheeks and pulling him towards her. The kiss started out sweet – a 'welcome home, I was so worried about you' salute that quickly turned into more.
"I missed you," Lorne broke away to mutter the words, trailing kisses across her cheek.
"I didn't know what to do," Prue said, breathless. "When the SGC told us what was happening I didn't know what I should ... I tried but it wasn't enough and ..." Tears rose in her eyes and she would have turned away if he'd let her.
"I know. I'm sorry," he said, pressing a kiss to her lips. "I'm so sorry Prue."
"I hate this Evan," she sniffed, wiping at her eyes.
"Hate what?" He pulled back to look at her in confusion.
"Feeling like this!" More tears made an appearance, too fast for her to wipe them away. "Loving you wasn't part of the plan!"
There was that leaping heart thing again. She loved him ... and even though she didn't seem exactly happy about it, the fact that she'd said it had him feeling powerful – like he could do anything. Cupping the back of her neck Evan pulled her in and kissed her, trying to express what she was to him, what she'd done to his head and his heart just by being who she was. Wrapping his arms around her he had her sprawled over him, never more glad to score a private room in the infirmary than right then.
"Major, good to see you finally awake," the door swung open and Carson strode in, interrupting them with a cheerful greeting, seemingly ignoring the manner in which he'd found his patient. Rather than break their contact abruptly like they'd been doing something wrong, Evan finished kissing Prue before letting her pull away, holding back a grin when she practically leapt clear of his bed, unnecessarily straightening her clothing and smoothing back her hair.
"And how are you feeling lad?" Carson asked, watching Evan carefully.
"Right now? Pretty damn good Doc," Lorne said with a faint smirk, throwing Prue a meaningful look and getting a half laugh, half glare in return.
"You're not bothered by the noise, the light?" Beckett asked with a frown of surprise. "The wormhole was still open when you collapsed – I conferred with Doctor Lam so I'm well aware you weren't completely honest about your situation prior to leaving the SGC."
"Yeah, sorry about that Doc," Lorne shrugged. "I wanted to get home. It was manageable and I couldn't see the harm in, you know, ...," he waved a hand in a vague gesture.
"In pretending you were fully over the effects of whatever happened on that planet?" Carson suggested. "Did they not tell you how serious it was? You could have died lad ... in fact for a moment there I thought you had, you were so still."
"Yeah, well, I'm fine now," Lorne insisted.
"Let me be the judge of that Major," Beckett said firmly, reaching for his stethoscope.
"I'll just ...," Prue gave Evan an unreadable look and then hurried from the room before he could ask her to stay.
"Sorry for the interruption Major," Carson said lightly, taking out his penlight and testing Lorne's vision.
"That's okay," Evan said, distractedly, his eyes still on the now empty doorway.
"She was worried about you," Carson finished with the light and proceeded to testing Evan's hearing. A click of his fingers, one loud 'hey!', and Carson was stepping back, considering Lorne with interest. "I'd say you're fully recovered Major," he announced. "Or you will be once we get your off those inhibitors."
"How?" Evan frowned, surprised.
"That is the question, isn't it lad?" Carson replied. "One I suspect we'll no more get the answer to than we will be working out what caused the whole bloody thing in the first place."
"I don't know what to tell you Carson," Evan admitted. "If I'm better I can get out of here though, right?"
"First thing in the morning - we'll keep you under observation for the time being," Carson slapped Lorne on the back, moving to the door where he stopped. "It's good to have you back Major."
"It's good to be back," Evan returned, resettling himself in the bed.
If Carson had known how little sleep Lorne would actually get he might have released him straight away instead of keeping Evan in the infirmary overnight. He'd really wanted to find Prue straight away, finish what they'd started. In the absence of doing that Lorne spent most of the night thinking about what she'd said, and what she hadn't said – both that day and in her messages to him while he'd been sick. And more importantly, he thought about what he hadn't said. As far as declarations of love went, Prue's wouldn't have exactly inspired any of the great poets to compose a sonnet in their honour. The more he thought about it the more he realised that Prue hadn't actually declared anything. She'd bemoaned that loving him made her life difficult. Instead of being insulted by that Evan found himself amused - after all, it was classic Prue to have her defences in place even when telling him something he'd wanted to hear.
It meant he'd have to devise a plan of attack ... because one, he couldn't see himself doing a standard declaration of love either. Not that he didn't have feelings for Prue worthy of the great bard himself, but it wasn't his style to get all mushy about it. Second, Lorne wanted Prue to be happy about their relationship, their shared feelings. He knew there were negatives – part of him was still struggling with the fact that he'd just put her through weeks of uncertainty, never mind that he couldn't guarantee it wouldn't happen again. It was almost morning before he decided on letting her words pass without comment. He'd prove to himself and to her what they could be together and then work her around to telling him how she felt because she wanted to, not because he'd been at deaths door and she was understandably emotional about it.
The whole death's door thing kind of bugged him too. It hadn't felt that way to him - sure, he'd been in agony and all, but at the same time he'd felt strong. Physically it had obviously been a different story - that was what had him worried - that he could lose himself in the midst of a mental battle like that. What would have happened if he'd been stuck in that battle and physically he hadn't made it? Would he have ended up fighting forever or would everything have been taken over by whatever happened when the end came?
"Major Lorne," Doctor Keller entered his room to greet him at the start of early shift, thankfully halting his inner musings.
"Doctor," Evan returned her greeting with a faint smile.
"It's good to see you back here," Jennifer said, taking up his chart and checking whatever it was they checked after a night spent in the infirmary under observation. "Well, all your readings are back to normal which means as soon as you're ready you're free to go."
"Great," Lorne grinned. When Jennifer smiled at his enthusiasm, clearly about to leave him to get dressed he called her back. "Doc, can you give me a run down on what's been going on in the city while I was gone? I'll get an official update from Colonel Sheppard later but I'd be interested in the civilian perspective too."
"Oh," Jennifer looked surprised. "Okay, well, actually things have been pretty intense Major. I don't know the full story but Doctor Beckett has been working a lot of hours and the other day there was a city wide emergency and we were all ordered to stay in our quarters. I don't know any more than that at this stage."
"I guess I'll find out what that was about later," Lorne returned, frowning. A city wide order to stay in quarters usually meant something or someone dangerous was roaming Atlantis.
"I guess," Jenn agreed. "Aside from that it's been pretty quiet."
"Thanks Doctor," Lorne smiled.
"Haven't we been to enough movie nights for you to call me Jennifer all the time, not just when I'm handing out unsolicited romance advice?" she asked hopefully.
"Sure," Lorne nodded, laughing, "as long as you call me Evan, okay?"
"Okay," Jennifer said, smiling happily. "I'll let you get dressed Evan ... I'm sure you've got places you'd rather be."
"Yeah," Lorne agreed, waiting until she'd closed the door behind her before jumping up and quickly dressing. Raising his hand in a casual farewell, Evan quickly left the infirmary, heading straight for Prue's lab. It was early but he was guessing she'd already be hard at work. Instead he found the lab dark, no sign of his girlfriend anywhere. She wasn't in her quarters either, or in the mess hall. In fact, unless he was very much mistaken, Prue wasn't on Atlantis at all.
Heading up to the control room, Evan was relieved to find Chuck in residence. Lorne's relationship with Prue was still new enough that he felt uncomfortable opening himself up to comments like he was about to. Since Chuck had already copped an eyeful when Lorne had left for Earth, Evan was hoping there'd be none of that from the gate technician.
"Major," Chuck greeted him enthusiastically.
"How's it going?" Lorne replied, stopping beside the man's work station.
"Business as usual Sir," Chuck replied.
"Listen, I don't suppose you'd know whether Doctor Darnell was scheduled to go off world today?" Lorne asked casually.
Chuck frowned, obviously expecting Evan to know those sorts of things. "Yes Sir," he revealed. "She accompanied Captain Kennedy's team to M4R-322 - another research mission. It's been scheduled for a while Sir."
"Right," Lorne nodded, adding silently to himself "one she neglected to tell me about yesterday." "Thanks Chuck."
"No problem Sir," Chuck hesitated for a moment before speaking. "If you don't mind my saying so Sir, Doctor Darnell took your absence pretty hard. I ah, I was here when the SGC called in to tell us what happened. And yesterday Sir ... that was a pretty memorable exit from the gate. I think everyone except Doctor Darnell was frozen for a few seconds it was so unexpected."
"Not one of my better moments," Lorne agreed. "I didn't realise Prue saw that."
"The Gateroom was pretty busy sir," Chuck grinned. "Quite a few people found excuses to hang around because we knew you were coming back."
"Really?" Lorne was genuinely surprised.
"Yes Sir," Chuck replied sincerely.
"Wow, that's ah ... that's ... nice," Evan stuttered for something to say. He knew Colonel Sheppard was revered by the men - for his exploits, for his ability to come back when anyone else would have bought the farm, and for the way he led the military within the city. John wasn't your usual commanding officer and for the people they'd picked for Atlantis, that was a good thing. Lorne had just never stopped to think about how he personally was regarded ... finding out people had been worried enough to hang around and see him return just hadn't crossed his mind. "Thanks ... for the information on Doctor Darnell's whereabouts too."
"You're welcome Sir," Chuck said, taking Lorne's nod of acknowledgement as his cue to turn back to his work.
Lorne thought for a moment and then went with his gut, making the Mess Hall his next destination. Colonel Sheppard was there, but instead of having breakfast with his team as Evan had been hoping, the city leaders were sharing a working breakfast together. All set to turn around and seek out his CO later, Lorne almost groaned when Doctor Weir caught his eye and motioned him over, a welcoming smile on her face.
"Major. It's good to see you back on your feet, especially after your rather spectacular return to the city yesterday."
"Not one of my better moments, "Lorne repeated the words he'd used with Chuck. "It's good to be back on my feet, Ma'am," he added.
"If you haven't had breakfast please join us," Elizabeth looked to Sheppard, getting an almost imperceptible nod of agreement. "I'd enjoy hearing your impressions after spending so much time at the SGC."
"I spent most of it in the infirmary, unconscious," Lorne quipped, talking a seat next to Sheppard reluctantly. Normally he'd have enjoyed the chance to talk to both leaders informally but he had other more pressing matters on his mind. "What can I tell you?" He thought for a moment. "Ah ... the I.O.A. were a little disappointed with my Puddle Jumper briefing," he looked at John. "You were right Sir, they were thinking reengineering a fleet of them would be a lot easier than my report suggested it was." He paused and then continued. "The Ori are still causing major problems ... thankfully the plague seems to be one attack they can't use anymore. That's taking most of the SGC's resources right now."
"And your family?" Elizabeth asked, conversationalist, diplomat, and just the level of caring she had for everyone working on Atlantis coming through in her interest..
"All well, thank you Ma'am," Lorne smiled. "I'll admit even with the unexpected ending I'd still have signed up for the trip home. With the Daedalus in orbit, travel time wasn't the factor it usually is."
"Ah yes," Elizabeth smiled. "Instantaneous transport wherever you want to go does have a certain appeal."
"It does Ma'am," Evan agreed. "What about here? Doctor Keller mentioned a general order to quarters last week."
"Not one of our better moments," Sheppard drawled, before proceeding to fill Lorne in on the whole subject of Michael. Lorne listened, keeping his expression bland even though inside he was incredulous at what had gone down while he'd been away. It wasn't hard to pick up on the disappointment at how their experiment to turn a Wraith into a human with Beckett's retrovirus had gone horribly wrong, nor the ethical dilemmas they'd faced during the entire four weeks the project had been ongoing.
"Where is Michael now?" Lorne asked.
"That's the thing Major," John admitted. "We have no idea, which makes him another potential threat. It's a sure bet he's already told all his Wraith buddies that the news of Atlantis's demise is severely exaggerated."
"I'm not sure the Wraith wouldn't already know that Sir," Lorne pointed out, explaining when John looked at him curiously, "uniforms, weapons - all pretty recognisable not to mention unique in these parts. There've been a few places we didn't have to even announce ourselves - didn't get a chance to trot out the cover story either."
"Talk amongst the locals doesn't necessarily equate to the Wraith knowing of our subterfuge," Elizabeth pointed out.
"No, and I don't think the locals I'm talking about would rat us out to the Wraith either," Lorne agreed. "But if we assume the Wraith have spies at various locations they could have overheard any number of conversations between our allies."
"The Major has a point," John agreed. "Things are different for the Wraith than they were a year ago - maybe they're too busy fighting amongst themselves to plan a combined attack on the city."
"Which just means we're in the same position we always were," Elizabeth concluded. "It's just a matter of time before they get their act together and come after the city again."
"Pretty much," John agreed. "But until they do its business as usual. If you're up to it Major, Carson gave you clearance to return to full duty."
"I'm up to it Sir," Lorne agreed. "Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. How much did the SGC tell you about what happened on oh one three?"
"Doctor Jackson briefed us on the Ancient columns," Elizabeth replied. "He said you put a hand on one as part of some kind of test, and got an unexpected reaction."
"That about sums it up Ma'am," Lorne hesitated and then ploughed on. "I'm not sure if you've made the connection - between oh one three and what we found on M4R-322. Same columns, similar carvings - I haven't followed up on specifically what's written on ours but Daniel's convinced theirs document significant events - ones that have happened and ah ... one's that haven't."
"Fascinating," Weir looked at Evan with interest. "I assume they have the proof of events that have occurred post discovering the columns?"
"Yes Ma'am," Lorne returned. "Since a former US air force Colonel took over leadership of the local village they've collected plenty of evidence that these prophesies have some element of truth to them, although Daniel did point out that it's subject to interpretation."
"How does this relate to what happened to you Major?" Sheppard asked curiously.
"There was nothing there to tell us why I was struck down Sir," Lorne explained, skirting the need to mention that at least one of the prophesies had been about him – because he didn't believe it and because he didn't want to believe it. "General O'Neill touched the same column and he was fine. Daniel thought maybe the answer might be here on one of our columns."
Sheppard got a look in his eyes, an 'I see where you're going with this' amused expression but Lorne pressed on regardless. "I'd like permission to meet up with the team on three two two Sir. Perhaps Doctor Darnell will be able to find what we need to shed light on my ... situation." There was no point in pretending that Prue wasn't on the planet he'd requested to go to, nor that he expected to see her, so putting it into a work context and being up front was the best he could do.
"You're up to off world travel so soon?" Doctor Weir asked in surprise.
"To be honest I feel the same as I did before I left Ma'am," Lorne offered with a half smile. "Maybe I just needed to be back in the city to find my inner quiet. I'd really appreciate the chance to look into this sooner rather than later Sir."
John exchanged a glance with Elizabeth before nodding. "Off you go then."
"Thank you Sir," Evan got up quickly, intent on getting going before his CO could change his mind.
"Check in with Carson before you go Major," Elizabeth said firmly. Lorne looked at her for a moment before nodding reluctantly.
Lucky for Evan, Carson couldn't find any reason not to let him go off world. Lorne quickly radioed Coughlin, Reed and Cheung, his briskness leaving no room for comments on his quick exit from the infirmary. If they thought it strange that they were so quickly being called up for an offworld mission, only Coughlin was game enough to comment. When he suggested to Evan that perhaps someone who'd collapsed on the gate room floor the prior day shouldn't be going off world the next, Lorne just grinned, clapped Nate on the shoulder and told him Carson had given him approval.
An hour later Lorne was exiting the wormhole on to M4R-322, his team a step behind him. They bypassed the village, heading straight for the ruins Lorne had last been to when rescuing Prue and Kara, based on the intel from the man Kennedy had left at the gate. Not something Evan wanted to be thinking about right then ... although Prue was certainly on his mind. With Reed and Cheung walking point, the narrow path and the quiet lent an air of privacy that left Evan feeling like he could ask about something that had been bothering him.
"Can I ask you a question Nate?"
"Of course Sir," Coughlin replied immediately.
"Friend to friend," Evan insisted. "Can we just drop the Sir for a few minutes?"
"Ah ...," Nate frowned before giving his agreement, "okay."
"Chuck mentioned that Prue was in the control room when the SGC dialled in and reported on my condition," Evan began. "I need to know how bad it was."
"Prue thought you'd be there at the SGC, that you might get to say something - we all did," Nate admitted. "Instead General Landry said you'd collapsed, that you were in so much pain they didn't think your system could handle it. Colonel Sheppard questioned them pretty hard - what happened, where you'd been, what they were trying to do to help. He wanted to go to the SGC to investigate that planet further but General Landry refused permission. Said they'd look after you. To be honest it was all very grim - even I went away thinking they'd basically told us you were as good as dead."
"And Prue?" Evan asked in a low tone, turning to look at his 2IC.
"What do you want to know?" Nate shot back, frowning. "She took it badly enough that it was pretty clear to anyone who didn't already know that the two of you were more than just friends."
"Did she want to go back to Earth too?" It was the question that had bugged him since he'd woken in the SGC infirmary alone. Even though he'd known of Prue's reluctance to return to Earth, after reading her emails a part of him had wondered. Did she ask to be with him and get knocked back, or had she stuck to her refusal to return home?
"Come on Evan," Nate protested. "You really want me to answer that?"
"Yeah, but not for the reasons you're thinking," Lorne replied. "She's got something in her past that's still an issue Nate. Something that I think means she has a problem going back to Earth. It's not conclusive but ...," Evan stopped, feeling the heat rising in his face as he realised what he was implying. That if anything would get Prue to Earth it'd be if he was in danger. "You know what I mean," he said hurriedly.
"Okay," Nate smirked, enjoying his CO's embarrassment since that side of Lorne was rarely on display. "To answer your question, Colonel Sheppard did offer to make a case for her to return to the SGC - said you should have someone there who cared about you, just in case. She didn't say anything, just gave him this kind of tortured look and then ran off. I followed her because I knew you'd want someone to look after her but by the time I found her she was acting like nothing was wrong. Told me she'd done what she could and that the rest was in the hands of the Ancestors."
"What does that mean?" Lorne muttered, frowning.
"No idea," Nate laughed suddenly. "You two really do belong together - sometimes she's just as strange as you are!"
"Not everyone's an open book like you," Evan retorted, but his heart wasn't in it. He was distracted, thinking about the implications; even more determined that as soon as he could reasonably consider them both off duty he was going to talk to Prue.